Wednesday night game at Quincy K of C ends after 36 years
By DIANA SCHOBERG
The Patriot Ledger
QUINCY -- Ann Cutter has sat in the same chair, in the same corner next to the Pepsi machine, playing bingo every Wednesday night for the past 36 years. She was at the Knights of Columbus Hall in North Quincy for their first night of bingo back in 1971, when the game was legalized after being banned for nearly three decades. And, one night earlier this week, she was in her usual spot for their last.
"I didn't want this to be the end," she sighed as she set down a newspaper and some crackers and got that favorite seat ready for the last hurrah. "I'm 84. I don't have much things to do. I just like to do something."
The Quincy Knights of Columbus ended its decades-long bingo game this week, the latest to go in the decline of the time- honored pastime.
But on this night, it's the game's swan song. The murmur of voices can barely be heard over the thump-thump of hands stamping numbers on bingo cards with multi-colored ink daubers, which the Knights are now selling at the low, low price of two for $1 to reduce the inventory.
The seats are nearly full. It's mostly women here, and mostly older women at that.
About 110 people show up for the final night, and the refrain of "if only this many would have shown up all along" echoes among the regulars. The Knights seemingly tried everything to keep the game alive.
They printed fliers and put them in senior housing and on car windshields, offering $3 off. They posted banners advertising "Bingo tonight." They printed ads in the newspaper and hired buses to pick up seniors unable to get there by themselves.
But when they went a year and a half without raising enough money to donate to charity -- the goal of the night, after all -- and attendance dropped from 200-plus in its heyday to only 75 a few weeks back, the club decided it was time to call the game.
The Knights needed 120 people to show up just to break even.
"The older folks are passing on, and the younger folks aren't taking the game up," says Joe Donnelly, past grand knight of the council, who, among other things, acts as bingo caller for the night.
The Quincy Knights aren't alone; across the state, the number of licensed bingo sites has plummeted from 916 at the game's peak in 1984 to only 280 in 2006. There are only 25 -- well, now 24 -- places in Norfolk County left where one can play bingo, according to figures from the Massachusetts Lottery Charitable Gaming Division. There are 26 in Plymouth County. "Nobody wants to see this close, not when you come here for so long," says Marion Clancy. "You know everybody. It's just sad."
For some of the regulars, the bingo isn't necessarily about the gambling. It's about something to do and somebody you know.
Like Cutter, everybody has a seat. They joke around with the Knights selling cards or handing out Styrofoam cups of hot tea. "It's heartbreaking. We're like a family," says Jan Shine, who notes the Knights even sent her a dozen roses when her last child was born. "I'm going to cry walking out the door." It's not just the bingo players who feel that way. "It's like losing a relative, you know?" says Joe Bracken, a Knight who has been helping host the bingo night for 20 years. "Ninety percent you see every week. You've seen them every week for 20 years. And when you don't see them, you know something's happened."
"It's working with the other guys," Donnelly says. "Comaraderie, socializing."
As for Ann Cutter, she has only kind words to say about the men, who "have been so nice all these years."
But she does have one warning.
"They had better not give up the meat raffle," she says, talking about another regular Knights of Columbus fundraising event. "I'll cause trouble."
Diana Schoberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.