Pandemic prompts virtual bingo in Alberta, draws in more players

Everything was disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many activities turned to a virtual experience.

For Albertans who love bingo, there was some worry at first that they would just have to go without until it was safe to get together. But a system was quickly figured out to get people playing at home.

All people have to do is pick up their bingo cards from the hall, and then go home and watch YouTube.

It was an easy transition for Anita Vincenzi.

“We play once a week and we usually only do Thursday or Friday. We pay $40, and that is 12 cards,” she said. “You get to go home and watch the bingo on YouTube.

“You can eat there, at home, and it doesn’t cost you any money.”

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While some other gambling options were taken away by COVID-19, bingo is one of the few that hasn’t missed a beat. Halls have seen an uptake in players, some travelling hours just to pick up some cards and play.

Read more: COVID-19: Alberta moves into Stage 1 of reopening — Here’s what you can and can’t do

On a normal pre-pandemic night, the Castledowns Bingo Hall in Edmonton would see about 150 players. Now that it’s virtual, there are often at least 400 to 500 players, and sometimes even over 1,000.

“It’s been a phenomenon that we weren’t expecting, and it’s taken us off guard a little bit because of the success of it,” said Jeff Paches, the owner of the Castledowns Bingo building.

Bill Metz, also known as “Bingo Bill,” has been a caller for 35 years. He loves the resilience of the game.

“It’s been a game that has been around since the beginning of time,” he said.

“Bingo has had its ups and downs. With non-smoking, and no one under the age of 18, and these other things that hit it… we managed to keep going through that,” Metz said.

“V-bingo has kept us going.”

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“It’s still a way players can keep playing, and still feel like they are part of the game,” Metz said of virtual bingo.

He said he has not done any calling for V-bingo but will be back on stage when the province enters Stage 2 of its reopening plan, which is expected to be June 10. At that time, bingo halls can open up to one-third of their capacity.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Kenney outlines Alberta’s reopening plan for summer

After the success of V-bingo, it will continue even after halls reopen. This is welcome news for people who like to play in their pajamas.

“I would do this sooner than go to a bingo hall,” Vincenzi said.

“I love (playing) this way. I save all kinds of money, and my husband doesn’t get mad.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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