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June 8, 1995

The current (June-July) issue of "Oklahoma Today," our state's excellent official bimonthly magazine, contains a feature article on the growing number of high stakes bingo parlors operated by various Indian tribes in Oklahoma. That of course includes the Otoe Bingo Hall at Red Rock. As a matter of fact, Otoe Bingo has the largest hall of all with seating for 2,000 game players -- roughly six times the population of Red Rock (321).

The article, by Barbara Palmer of the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, is an interesting account of the bingo phenomena. She lists 13 of the most popular high-stakes bingo halls in Oklahoma, all but one of them east of 1-35 highway. Seating capacities range from Otoe Bingo's high of 2,000 to a low of 600 at Ponca Bingo (White Eagle, south of Ponca City) and the same number at Kaw Tribal Bingo at Newkirk. In addition to those three, the other larger and more popular halls in Oklahoma are at Catoosa, West Siloam Springs, Muskogee, Okmulgee, Roland, Norman, Arrowhead Resort, Durant, Idabel and Thackerville. Thackerville is just slightly west of 1-35, but the others are all on the east side of the interstate.

Palmer's article relates that payouts are climbing higher and higher in these games. She states: "In the March issue of the 'Bingo Bugle,' Otoe Bingo at Red Rock advertised a game where the payout would exceed Choctaw's high watermark of $500,000, and the buy-in would be less: $375 compared to $500. 'Strictly limited seating,' the ad read. 'Only 2,212 reservations will be accepted'." (The Choctaw tribe operates halls in Idabel, Durant and Arrowhead Resort of Lake Eufaula.)

For the uninitiated, the article includes a glossary of bingo terms. "Payout" is the prize for the winner or winners of each game. In the case of multiple winners, the pot is split evenly. "Buy-in" is the cost of buying a pack of cards. Some halls sell packs at three levels, $20, $30 and $75 at one gaming center. Level I pays out $500, Level II pays out $1,000, and Level III pays out $2,500.

"Bingo halls are countries unto themselves," the article states. "Each hall has its own repertoire of games with its own rules and awards." Some of the parlors are into high technology with individual computer terminals for players which make traditional bingo, with its paper and ink and litter, outmoded. "On a computer terminal, one player can buy up to 260 cards at a time and not worry about missing a number," Palmer writes, "since the computer can be set on auto play." Some traditionalists are scornful of the computers and insist on having paper in their hands.

In terms of visitors, Otoe Bingo is by far Noble county's biggest tourist attraction. On weekends when the games are underway, it is not unusual to see 20 or more tourist buses heading for Red Rock's bingo hall. Many of those players come from states north and south of here, indeed from throughout the Midwest and Southwest. Give the people what they want and they will come. You can't argue with the popularity of bingo. It deals in big payouts and that's the magic lure. Our Perry motels, restaurants and gas stations feel the impact of Otoe Bingo weekends, and more of that business can be cultivated here.

Casino gambling is illegal in Oklahoma, but that does not include Indian bingo. "The sovereign rights of Indian tribes amount to a franchise of sorts," Palmer writes, "one that has sparked interest in Oklahoma tribes from a lot of different quarters."

If you're not a subscriber (and you should be), find a copy of this magazine. It is a collector's issue with many articles about Native Americans in Oklahoma and it contains a great deal of worthwhile and interesting information besides the bingo article. The magazine is well worth your money and your time. This particular issue also includes attractive ads purchased by several state communities, inviting tourists to come see them. Some of the cities are Pawnee, Ponca City, Tulsa, Checotah, Sapulpa, Krebs, Edmond, Miami, Meers, Ardmore and Tahlequah. There are others, but you get the idea -- small towns as well as larger cities are included. Each ad promotes specific points of interest to tourists, and this issue is going to generate some serious business for many of those communities.

We're still getting organized here in Perry, but one of these days we'll have our act together and join in the harvest of tourist dollars that can come our way. Just you wait and see.