The last month I’ve had a couple of trips to one of the bigger Bingo halls in Cardiff, The Castle Bingo on Newport Road. The times I’ve been, a couple of things struck me about what was happening at the club in contrast to the press I see about the industry’s problems. I’ve often said here that a lot of the problems the Bingo industry are self inflicted, and stem from an ingrained lack of imagination and an inability to adapt and change their business. it’s easier to blame external forces such as taxation and the smoking ban than it is to look in the mirror and change oneself.
Ok, so what I saw isn’t happening in every Bingo hall in the industry – but I’ve certainly seen the practice in a number of halls that I’ve visited and worked at. Now, as well as the Party Bingo played during the intervals, the main money spinner for any Bingo club is the fruit machines. Ideally, if you want to make money off the fruit machines in a club, you need people to be spending money on them. However, in many cases, the selfish behaviour of small set of players is stopping machines being available to play.
It’s long been the practice to leave a machine in play during sessions. In many clubs it’s become formalised to the point that they have cards to place on the machines to make sure no one uses them. Where it’s not formalised, simply leaving a credit in the machine will have the same effect. The club I was at was one such club that utilises the more formalised approach. So, here’s what I witnessed on Saturday night. Bare as in mind as well that this is one of the club’s busiest nights of the week, so it’s their best chance to raise revenues through it fruit machines.
So, close to where we were seated there was a bank of 9 machines. During the night I followed events at the machines, and was staggered by what I saw. One of them was a multi-site machine with 3 places, the other a standalone. The night went like this. Firstly, at some point shortly after the early session had finished, the 3 multi-site machines were left with 1 credit in them and the ‘machine in play’ cards left on them. One person had been playing all 3 places on the 3 site machine, and left one credit in each. At the standalone machine a similar thing happened, shortly after. This time the player was present, and spent his time sat in front of the machine. All four machines remained in this state until the end of the late session.
After the late session, the person who’d left the multi-site machines with one credit it in them played the three credits and left the club. The person at the standalone played a couple of pounds then left the club. So, from roughly 7.00pm to 9.30pm, peak time at the club 4 out of 9 machines were out of action. At various times I walked around the other areas of the club with machines in and saw many, mid interval, tied up in the same way.
In my opinion this behaviour is being played out all across the UK. As for the motivation of fruit machine players to do this, I have a couple of theories. Firstly, they are of the mistaken belief that leaving the machine for a certain amount of time will improve its chances of paying out. Secondly, they are waiting to have a win on the Bingo to further fund their gaming. Either way, it’s a practice that the clubs should look at addressing. Having the machines out of play is costing them money pure and simple.
Not only that, but having machines tied up in such a way robs other members of both choice and the chance to play on machines as there’s such a rush on the ones that are available. I know fruit machine players well, and the thought of playing a machine then having someone jump on it and take what you perceive as your money is a powerful one. The culture at the clubs supports this by giving the players permission to behave in such a manner by printing up cards to allow it to be formalised.
Personally, I think this can be addressed very simply. Either turn off all the machines at the end of the interval, which encourages the players to finish credits before the Bingo starts, or have someone police the machines to discourage this sort of behaviour. If Bingo wants to survive and thrive, it needs to start being a bit more pro-active. Addressing these sort of barriers to business is one way start clawing back revenues from the existing business model. The second is to start finding ways of bringing in the new business.
Online Bingo is one area that traditional Bingo has found exciting and lucrative new business. The Castle Bingo chain have their own very fine online bingo site, but I wouldn’t know that from playing at their club. If it was my club, there would be URLs printed on all the books, stationary, tables, etc. I don’t think I’ve seen a single advert or URL for the site at club, other than an occasional and short lived flash on the numbers board.
Come on guys – you’re not getting your message across. I bet if you asked your members about which online bingo sites they know, the answer would be Foxy, Sun and probably Gala Bingo. Two of these don’t have retail Bingo, but they’re getting the exposure and benefiting from having their URL everywhere. Buses in South Wales should have the Castle URL all over their advertising, but there’s nothing. Time to get busy me thinks.