The ambient sound in the Tlingit and Haida Community Council hall Friday night was comparable to that of a busy public library - except numbers were being called out over a loudspeaker in a slow and steady cadence as the anticipation began to grow in the crowd of slightly less than a hundred.
Then the silence broke as "bingo" was yelled out, immediately followed by moans and groans reverberating through the gathering.
This is a daily occurrence in Alaska's capital city.
"Juneau is pretty unique because we have bingo seven nights a week here at different organizations," said Danielle Groghan, gaming manager for Tlingit and Haida Community Council.
The fact that all the organizations work together to ensure quality bingo throughout the city is special, Groghan said.
"Our bingo players are into bingo because we make it enjoyable here. It's very friendly, it's not competitive, and the fact that all the managers work together is huge," she said. "You don't find that anywhere else in Southeast Alaska, especially where you can play every night of the week and we pay out the maximum amount every session."
Four organizations split up the bingo games through the week.
A total of $5,000 is up for grabs each bingo session, the maximum allowed under State of Alaska gaming laws. Participants can play in six games that pay out $150, two games that pay out $200, a $300 game, a $400 game and three $1,000 games for as little as a $20 buy-in. By law, players must be at least 19 years old to participate.
The money generated from bingo goes directly into service programs delivered by the council, including an annual culture camp, a Saturday homework club, an emergency assistance program for Native tribal members and school supplies for low-income families, to name a few, Groghan said.
"We just have a good community who enjoys playing bingo, and they know where the money goes," she said. "When they know where the money goes, it helps people come back."
John Gallagher, who was out playing Friday night, said he plays bingo about two nights of the week. He said he doesn't have any set rituals or superstitions, but has noticed other serious players who do.
"I think everyone has different little quirks about it, favorite seats, and I've heard about all sorts of things," Gallagher said.
He said you get a thrill in the victory and feel the agony in defeat.
"When you hear someone win, everyone else kind of groans, you know," he said.
Robert Fawcet, who has been playing bingo for 30 years, said there isn't really any set etiquette that players follow. He doesn't have a lucky dauber (a score card marker), but he does have a certain ritual that he follows when he plays.
"I put my girls' names on my papers," he said. "I have three daughters, so I put their initials on there. T, K and A."
Fawcet said playing bingo is a good alternative to some of the other weekend social options that are available in Juneau.
"It's a good place. It beats being downtown where you can get into trouble," he said.
Donita Johnson won one of the $150 games and said, "It's a rush, and it's exciting."
She said a bingo gathering is a good place to socialize and she has made a lot of friends while playing. She said some people play just for fun, while others are more serious and are known as "Bingo Bunnies."
Julie Wigg, another one of Friday's winners, said the rush of winning a bingo game is addicting.
"It's like smoking a cigarette," she said. "I just love the game, playing bingo."
Groghan said the council generally takes in between $2,500 and $3,000 per session after all the prizes are paid out. She said they average around 135 players per session.
"It depends on the time of year," she said. "Monday nights are more popular during the summer because there's more going on Friday's night. In the winter, Friday nights are more popular."
She said the crowds are not what people might stereotype them to be.
"When people think of bingo they think of, Oh, my grandma plays. We have a good mixture of young and old and in the middle," she said
She said a bingo game is a good place to see the ethnic and cultural diversity Juneau has to offer.
"We have white, Filipino, Native players, everyone in this community, and everyone is very friendly to each other."
Groghan said the different organizations are always looking for more bingo players to fill the seats.
"It's fun to bring in more people, because the more people, the more we can give back to the community through our charities," she said.
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.
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