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Digital Bingo lights up bars

First time electronic bingo players Emily Schupp (left) and Patrick Meyers celebrate their first win of the evening at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes.

The game of BINGO has been around since the Italians invented it in the year 1530 (when it was called "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia").

The game caught on amongst the wealthy in France in the late 1770s, when it was called Le Lotto).

It finally made its way over to America in 1929, where it was called "Beano," and that is what was yelled when somebody got all five numbers across, diagonally or down.

Shortly after, a toy salesman in New York renamed the game, after hearing somebody accidentally call out "BINGO" instead of "BEANO."

Now, the game is evolving once again, as gamers take the popular, old-fashioned game and give it a digital twist.

It was bound to happen.

"It's so easy," said NancyLee Loftsgard, gambling manager for the Minnesota Flyers.

Loftsgard, along with Shelly Borowicz of Mr. Ed's Bingo Casino Supply, is one of the people spearheading the first of its kind electronic bar bingo in Minnesota.

"Each person gets a little hand-held machine (instead of paper bingo cards), and they will then buy a package from us (however many games or cards the player wants)," said Loftsgard. "And then it's put into the machine, the computer processes it, and the person will then see their game on their little hand-held screen."

Electronic bingo has been around for a while, but Minnesota is the first to allow bar Bingo to be run solely through electronic means, for the purpose of fundraising for charity.

In this instance, it is the Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics Program in Detroit Lakes that receives the proceeds.

"You will find electronic Bingo in Bingo halls, but you will not find them in a bar setting... this is the first," said Borowicz.

Right now, this "test run" has Borowicz and Loftsgard running all over the area with their totes full of handheld Bingo devices and electronic equipment, doing some testing of their own.

"We're trying out different bars in the area that are interested in this,' said Loftsgard. "We'll weed out the ones that don't have a good showing and keep the ones that do."

It is imperative that people show up to play in order for Loftsgard and the Flyers to continue the program, because they are the ones leasing the electronic system from Mr. Ed's Bingo Casino Supply, a Minnesota licensed gaming distributor.

"It has to be worth our time to come out here and our money to lease the machines," Loftsgard said.

She added that a lot of bar owners want to get Bingo going in order to draw people in during slow times, and will often offer drink specials for those participating in the new-style bingo.

"This is a way to get bingo in some of these places because it's less expensive to run than traditional paper bingo," Loftsgard said.

She added that most bars cannot afford to have regular bingo, because the equipment is too expensive and it takes too many people to run it.

With electronic bar bingo, it only takes a couple of people to run it and there is no big screen required to show players the game.

This savings then trickles down to players.

"It cost less to play electronically," Loftsgard said. "Each card ends up being about .78 cents, while paper bingo is a dollar a card."

Cheaper prices and electronic daubers is what entice players to play more cards at once.

"I'm playing like 40 cards right now, and that's way more than I would play otherwise," said Detroit Lakes bingo player Lorelle Moeckel.

Moeckel had never played electronic bingo before, but says the way the machines automatically daub all the cards for her makes it more fun, because she can talk and do other things during the game.

"I like it... it's pretty mindless, and I like that," laughed Moeckel.

It likely didn't hurt Moeckel's opinion of the game when she declared "Bingo!" twice right away, allowing her to recoup $33 of the $40 she spent to play.

Loftsgard said right now the pots are lower than you'd find in many other traditional places, but pointed out that the more people they get to play, the bigger the pots will be.

Borowicz and Loftsgard both acknowledged the fact that this new style wouldn't be for everyone, but said they're not trying to replace the traditional form of bingo.

"We're just adding a new game for everybody to try," Loftsgard added.

To see what electronic bar bingo is all about, check out one of the gaming sites.

Right now, it runs Mondays at the Speak Easy at 6 p.m., Tuesdays at the Holiday Inn at 7 p.m., Thursdays at the Hill Lounge in Glyndon at 7 p.m., and Saturdays at Shorewood Pub at 6 p.m.