The great bingo battle: paper versus plastic

68 Comeback Special Elvis proves to be an unlucky charm.
Photo: Deanna Rilling

To daub or not to daub? Two Weekly writers hit the bingo hall to settle a debate over the use of paper versus electronic machines.


The ’68 Comeback Special Elvis was always my favorite version of The King. His tousled hair. Those swinging hips sheathed in leather, viewable from all 360-degrees. The kinda-playing of his guitar. It seemed only natural that my favorite Elvis would bring me good luck while playing bingo, so I ponied up an extra 50 cents for the daubber of Mr. Presley and hit the bingo hall.

It was only my second time playing real bingo. (Elementary school doesn’t count, even though the coveted prize was a stack of Vanilla Wafers.) The different combo of games, cards and levels was perplexing, and the lady at the counter seemed annoyed with me. But even as a bingo newbie, one thing is sure: I like it old school. I want paper cards, leaky ink daubers that stain my hands and the hope that someone nearby missed a few numbers, buying me a few extra minutes to get that double hardway.

Those newfangled automated machines do all the work for you. They make me crankier than a senior who’s run out of blue rinse. Sitting around and enjoying cocktails while the computer makes sure you’re on the right page, playing the right game and marking off all the numbers is like playing on autopilot. It’s so easy, even a caveman could do it. What’s the fun in that?

As I frantically moved my $1.50 Elvis daubber over $6 worth of paper cards, I could hear beeping noises nearby. Someone was only one away from a bingo. Soon a machine was playing a MIDI version of “We’re in the Money.” I’d lost again.

April sat nearby fidgeting with the background images on her machine because, well, there wasn’t much else to do. She should have brought a crossword puzzle.

When the game was over, I found my one and only pro argument for the machines: The casino doesn’t offer recycling for the massive amount of paper generated by bingo. All my losing papers went into the trash. Elvis had epically failed me. And, of course, April won. Perhaps I missed a number somewhere…

- Deanna Rilling


I like to think of myself as a practical person. When a piece of technology comes along that can simplify my life, I embrace it. With that in mind, when I first entered my first bingo hall and discovered that portable electronic machines that keep track of your bingo cards had replaced the tiny square papers of my childhood bingo games, I was ecstatic.

Las Vegas was not built on winners, and anything that can increase your chance of winning is a good thing. Electronic bingo machines follow the sometimes-complex rules for you, allowing you to focus on the alcoholic element of a night at bingo (something I admit I value more than ruining old ladies’ nights by beating them on their own turf.)

Paper-preferring folks criticize the usage of the machines as being lazy and uninvolved. I disagree. It’s similar to betting on a sporting event and rooting for a team – except you’re rooting for the number 55. The fact that paper-users feel more involved doesn’t change the fact that winning at bingo is still simply about luck. It requires no thinking, only data entry – something I have to do at work and prefer to leave there.

Practical elements aside, electronic machines also soothe the neurosis that often creeps up and undermines my attempts at being a practical, fully functioning member of society.

Electronic machines mean I no longer worry about shouting “bingo!” (and enduring the mandatory groans and mutterings of “bitch” from the bitter players around me), only to have a casino attendee come over to verify my win and announce “mistake!” to the entire hall. I also don’t have to worry about accidentally forgetting to dauber a number and realizing later that I could have won a level three triple pay out.

I have nothing against paper-philes who think they’re beyond making mistakes. I think they’re cute and kitschy, like employees who refuse to sign up for direct deposit and little old ladies who use checkbooks at the grocery store. Unfortunately, while I generally say “aww, cute” when I hear people talk about their love for bingo, the response I get when I express my preference for the electronic machine is pure anger. Nice people have actually said, “I hate people like you” on multiple occasions.

Luckily, I’m an understanding person. I know accepting the fact that something you love is being replaced by something much more efficient can be a difficult thing, so I forgive their bitterness. (The $50 I won helps, too.)

I may be lazy and neurotic, but at least I’m a winner.

- April Corbin

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