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Florida Bingo

The game of Bingo began around 1530 in Italy with an Italian lottery called “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia.” As the game migrated to North America in 1929 and was called “beano” because the game was played at county fairs using numbered cigar discs and beans. Beano inspired a New York Toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe renamed it Bingo after hearing a player accidentally yell Bingo instead of Beano. In addition, Lowe hired a Columbia University Math Professor, Carl Leffler to help him increase the number of combinations on bingo cards. Rumor has it that after Professor Leffler invented 6,000 bingo cards, he went insane.

Bingo’s rise in popularity in Florida came about when Howard Tommie, Chairman of the Seminole Indian Tribe came up with the idea of high stakes bingo in 1971. On December 14, 1979 James Billie was elected Chairman and in partnership with non-Seminole Eugene “Butch” Weisman opened up Hollywood Bingo at Seminole Casino of Hollywood, Florida. This was a big step because casino gaming is not permitted in Florida, Bingo is as the Tribe was granted special rights to do so and even when those rights were challenged, the Fifth circuit of Appeals in Atlanta upheld the Tribe’s right to run high stakes bingo.

The Florida Seminoles continue to feel a sense of victory over Caucasians in their Hollywood Bingo Empire. This pride stems from when their Indian ancestors were driven into the everglades in the early 19th century. They went from raising cattle, making dolls and baskets to produce revenue and wrestling alligators to entertain tourists to today having 1,200 people play Bingo every afternoon and evening in their $900,000 bingo hall. Players enjoy valet parking, waitresses and armed escorts to their cars at the end of their play. An interesting bit of information is that the nightly super jackpot runs as high as $19,000. The revenue generated from this is incredible as charted buses bring players in from as far away as Tampa and players spend an average of $35 a night. With the majority of earning going to the tribe, they have been able to build gymnasiums, swimming pools and senior citizen and children centers. About 18 years ago, former Seminole Chairman had said “Indians have historically been able to adapt to their environment. Generating money is now the name of the game.” That statement still holds true today.

Bingo has come a long way and there are thousands of variations of the game either played in a Bingo Hall, the Internet and the Lotto. In Jacksonville, The Florida Theatre, in order to save them from bankruptcy had come with a special program called “Screeno” which was a bingo game played on the movie screen. This was the brainchild of the Theatre’s Manager Guy Kenimer.

Today they currently employ more than 2,000 non Indians and purchase goods and services from 850 plus Florida vendors a year in the amount of $24 Million plus. The Seminole Tribe pays Federal payroll taxes in the amount of at least $3.5 Million. The Seminole Tribe of Florida created the path for Native American gaming in the US. They are headquartered on the Seminole Hollywood Reservation and are a sovereign government.

The game of Bingo continues to remain popular and grow as electronic equipment, improved facilities and larger jackpots make a huge impact to attracting people.

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