WILKES-BARRE — After a run of 81 straight years, bingo at St Nicholas-St Mary’s Catholic Elementary School will come to an end on Tuesday.
Citing financial reasons, Monsignor Joseph Rauscher said the game is no longer making enough money to justify continuing.
“Actually, we’re losing money,” Rauscher said. “We announced last week that we were ending the bingo game and to say the least, people aren’t happy.”
Rauscher said at one time the game attracted hundreds to the South Washington Street school gymnasium and cafeteria — the two sites where the game was held. Now, Rauscher said, only the cafeteria is utilized because attendance is so low.
The decades-old game, once the answer on Jeopardy regarding the oldest continuing bingo game in the U.S., will be no more after Tuesday night.
The Rev. Joseph Luksic is credited with starting the bingo game at St. Nick’s. Rauscher doesn’t relish being the one who had to shut it down, so he’s left the door open a little bit.
“The decision we made is that we are closing down for now,” he said. “But unless something major happens, I don’t see it resuming.”
Rauscher said he has adjusted times for the game and made other changes, but the crowds have not returned.
“We would have to come up with a way to make bingo financially feasible for us,” Rauscher said. “This is a very difficult decision, but one that had to be made.”
Rauscher commended all of the volunteers who worked hard to keep the came afloat.
“Our records show 1933 as the first year for bingo at St. Nick’s,” Rauscher said. “I don’t know if it was every week then, but it had certainly become a regular weekly thing by the later part of the ’30s.”
These days, Rauscher said many bingo players now go to casinos to gamble.
“You can go to a casino any time you want. We’re once a week,” he said.
Gerry Maley, 82, of Wilkes-Barre, is a St. Nick’s member and a bingo volunteer for nearly 50 years. She’s been attending the St. Nick’s weekly bingo since she was 5. Her grandmother started bringing her to the game, so she has memories of the good days when crowds flocked to hear “G-50, or I-19, or O-75.”
“It’s breaking our hearts,” Maley said, referring to other volunteers and faithful players. “But we haven’t been getting the people. I think this cold weather and all the snow has a lot to do with it.”
Maley said many of the bingo players are getting older, making it more difficult for them to get to the church and negotiate the stairs to the basement cafeteria.
Maley said she has always heard that the St. Nick’s bingo game was the first in the U.S.
“Tuesday night will be tough,” she said. “I’m sure we will be looking at each other knowing this is our last bingo game together.”
Rauscher said the game had averaged 200 to 250 players.
Many Catholic churches and other non-profit organizations that have long relied on the game of chance to generate extra revenue have discontinued the game.
Maley said everyone she has talked to is upset, but they realize nothing can be done if the game isn’t well-attended.
“It’s my only night out,” she said. “And I know this decision is hurting Monsignor Rauscher. He told us the church just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“I have one more,” she added. “Then I don’t know what I’m going to do.”