Bingo’s back! Number-calling card game returns to fair

Bingo returns to the Whidbey Island Area Fair this year, and organizers are anxious and nervous to see how it’s received.

Exactly when bingo was dropped from the fair is unclear. One Island County Fair Association board member said it was probably 15 years ago, but one of the organizers who recalled playing bingo as a girl thought it could be closer to 20. Regardless, more than a decade passed without any bingo, without shouts of joy as a column fills or hollers of frustration as someone else’s numbers are called. The fair association hopes that running games for six hours straight, noon to 6 p.m. every day, will give people a chance to do something different, yet familiar, with a possibly decent payout at 85 percent of the game’s intake [if 10 people played one card each, the winner would get $8.50].

“It’s a good little machine to get people out for a little fun,” said Jason Kalk, a fair board member. “If they win a little cash doing it, all the better.”

The number-calling card game of chance was resurrected by a dedicated group of women hoping to revive a large part of their personal fair memories. Carrie Allen spearheaded the charge that resulted in the fair association hosting twice-monthly bingo nights leading up to the fair and continuing past it. A few days before the fair, Allen was nervous to see how people would respond to a game of chance that she was herself was passionate about and for which she felt was worth risking a lot of time and energy.

“Everybody says the same thing,” Allen said. “Everybody played bingo at the fair. It’s what you did.”

She was spurred after years of attending the fair and feeling disappointed in what was offered. As a mother, she felt there were too few of the iconic fair activities she remembers looking forward to as a girl on South Whidbey. She joined the fair association last fall with one goal in mind: bringing bingo back.

“After last year’s fair, I was like, I cannot handle this anymore,” Allen said. “The fair was not what I remembered it being when I was a kid. Now that I have kids and we take them to the fair and make a big deal about it, we want to have fun.”

Allen said she was uncertain what size crowd she would see during the fair. At a recent fair association bingo night, 36 people played — the most so far — which Allen said made the Pole Building’s dining room feel full. But she felt confident that up to 60 people could comfortably play bingo at one time. She wasn’t the only one who envisioned a busy bingo hall.

“I’m sure we’re going to have that room pretty well filled during the fair,” Kalk said.


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