The pandemic disrupted a lot of the community activities we used to take for granted, but slowly, many of them are returning.
Just last month, regular bingo nights started up again at the Filipino Community Hall in downtown Juneau after a two-year hiatus.
On a recent Thursday evening, the bingo hall was buzzing. A few dozen people — mostly seniors, but not all of them — were clustered around long tables, waiting for the games to begin.
It costs $21 to play. That gets you 13 games, or rounds, of bingo. The total payout is $5,000, but the most you can win on a single game is $1,000.
Nan Hotch said she comes every Thursday and Sunday. She doesn’t win much, but she enjoys catching up with other regulars.
“It’s nice to be with all the friends you can’t go see all that much anymore, so [you] get to come here and visit,” Hotch said.
She missed that while Filipino Community, Inc. bingo was shut down. The charitable gaming operation has been going on continuously since the 1990s, according to FilComm Vice President Dante Reyes.
“We were out of our gaming operations for about two and a half years,” Reyes said. “And that’s why we lost a lot of revenue. So we’re happy that we started operating.”
That money not only keeps the lights on and the roof from leaking, but helps the organization pay for annual scholarships for students and hold cultural events. When it’s not bingo night, they rent out the hall for weddings, funerals or other events. One of the food carts by the docks uses the kitchen to prep during the summer.
The building is more than 100 years old and needs repairs and upgrades. The electronic bingo boards that hang on the walls and tell players what numbers have been called and what pattern wins each game aren’t that old, but they have their own issues.
Cyla Garcia is the bingo manager. She said they’re hoping to replace the boards. They actually opened for a day back in June, but had to close again due to technical problems.
“There’s still a lot of bugs and fixes that we need to figure out but hopefully, we don’t have to, we can just get a whole new system,” Garcia said.
On a typical night, she said they see 60 to 80 patrons and make about $9,000 to $10,000 in gross sales.
“Dividend just hit, so we’re kind of at our high peak right now,” Garcia said. “So people still have money to spend.”
The first game starts at 7 p.m. It takes about 15 minutes – and sometimes a few false alarms – before each game comes to an end. As soon as that happens, it’s on to the next one.
One game is called the Filipino special. That’s the big payout.
“It used to be called Italian, but it didn’t make sense to me so I changed it to Filipino,” Garcia said, laughing.
The numbers come fast, and the winning pattern changes with each game. It’s hard to keep up for a first timer, but most veteran players have multiple cards going at once to increase their chances.
Reyes said it’s nice to see the same faces every week again.
“So they want to go here, have camaraderie as you can see,” he said. “And they got some storytelling about what happened during the last previous days and telling about their grandkids, their kids or whatever they’re doing.”
Shannon Bible sat at the end of a table with a friend, diligently marking numbers on her cards. She says she’s glad to be back, and it’s nice to have somewhere other than bars to go to socialize at night. But she said it’s not completely the same.
“It’s kind of sad, too, because a lot of people that were regulars are no longer here,” Bible said. “A lot of people that used to come here are no longer with us.”
Two-and-a-half years is a long time, especially during a global pandemic. But for now, it’s nice to have a little slice of normalcy back — and maybe a chance to win big, too.
This story is part of KTOO’s participation in the America Amplified initiative to use community engagement to inform and strengthen our journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.