Wingo draws new bingo generation

05/20/2010 12:00 AM |

Karissa Martocchia (from left), 24, Kelly Flinn, 22, and Austin Comando, 24, all of Southold, are part of a new generation of Wingo enthusiasts who have been flocking to Martha Clara Vineyards to play the game.

At 47, Southold resident Cynthia Bergmeyer says she’s the youngest bingo player at the Southold American Legion Hall on Tuesday afternoons.

But at Martha Clara Vineyard’s Thursday night Wingo games — “wingo” just means bingo with players enjoying some wine — Ms. Bergmeyer fits right into a diverse crowd of bingo enthusiasts young and old. One Thursday earlier this month, she and her bingo companion, 76-year-old Carol Leden of Greenport, got to the winery early for a front seat before the tasting room filled to capacity –¬ about 250 people aged 21 and up.

“It’s fun-fun,” Ms. Leden said. “I love the diversity. You see people you haven’t seen in a while. And it’s so much better than sitting at home.”

Martha Clara tasting room manager Loretta Reese calls the numbers and has hosted Wingo since it started late last fall. Ms. Reese, 39, said the game night was the result of a brainstorming session among employees, wondering how to draw people to the vineyard on a weeknight, which is always a challenge.

“We’re seeing mostly local people,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to get out and do something fun — and everyone can play Wingo.”

Ms. Reese said that only a “handful” of people gathered in the front room to play Wingo the first few weeks. Then, mostly through word-of-mouth, attendance “exploded exponentially,” she said. Registration time was moved up to 6:30 from 7 p.m. to start the game during sunlit hours so seats could be set up outside, she added.

As the game gains popularity, many people have been making a night of it, bringing in their own food and even decorating their tables, Ms. Reese said.

“I’ve seen people bring in tablecloths and a vase with flowers,” she said. “They get here early to set up. Each week, someone does something different.”

For $10, players get six cards with printed numbers. They try to match a pattern of numbers randomly drawn and called by Ms. Reese. Cash prizes start at $150 for a regular game, if there’s a good crowd. It all depends on how many people are playing. Players can buy as many cards as they’d like, and to claim a prize, they have to shout “Wingo” instead of “Bingo.”

Along with the regular game cards, players also get two separate cards to try for the jackpot, which has averaged about $2,500 the last few weeks. All of the money paid by players goes back out in prizes, Ms. Reese said. “The winery only makes money from wine sales,” she said.

Sitting with a table full of friends during his eighth evening of Wingo, Aquebogue resident Matt Vandercreek, 24, said he hasn’t won anything yet. But the wine and camaraderie keep him coming back.

“It’s a good crowd and a good time,” he said. “Every week, we bring more people down here.”

Mr. Vandercreek’s mother, Debbie Vandercreek, said she was introduced to the game by another son, who has been playing Wingo since the beginning. At 54, Ms. Vandercreek said she’d never been one to frequent the bingo halls. But she said she was glad the younger generation is picking up on the classic lodge game and getting her out of the house every Thursday.

“It’s great to have a little variety, and to have a little drink if you like,” she said. “We bring our own food, and the table keeps getting bigger every week.”

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Is Thursday night bingo at the winery K*A*P*U*T*?

Two of the regular participants in what had grown into a highly popular social event at Marth Clara Vienyards told The News-Review this week that staff at the winery has shelved the games temporarily, if not permanently.

According to section 495-a of New York State General Municipal Law, only charitable groups can hold Bingo games for fundraising purposes, with a proper permit. The winery’s last game night was Thursday, May 6. Martha Clara employees could not be reached for comment this week.