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They love bingo in Martinsburg

October 05, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Doug Bush doesn't like bingo, but the executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Boys and Girls Club knows a good thing when he sees it.

With more than 450 people paying $17 and up for the opportunity at $8,500 in prizes, Bush said Saturday's grand opening of their new bingo operation at the Berkeley County Multi-Purpose Center far exceeded their expectations.

Despite the beautiful weather, people were lining up before the doors opened at 2 p.m. to enter the 33,000 square foot center at the mostly vacant Berkeley Plaza shopping center. The hall, which used to be a JC Penney's, quickly became hazy with cigarette smoke.

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Before moving to the center, the club averaged about 25 bingo players on the weekends, Bush said.

"We had no idea we'd have this many people," he said.

Bush said he hoped the new operation would net $20,000 profit a month, enough to hire more staff, refurbish the club's 90-year-old headquarters, and possibly add computers and a learning center.

Bush said the electrical wiring at their headquarters is so weak, "you plug in four computers and the whole building goes down."

Bush said the bingo operation should do well because it has the largest guaranteed payout in the area.

Bingo players praised the large, clean setup and said they enjoyed the side games, including tip jars and door prizes.

"I love it and I wish it would stay. It's something that we need." said Ruth Lane of Charles Town.

"I can go out and enjoy myself and it's not too expensive. I pray that it stays open."

She, like many of the players, has several good luck charms, including a stuffed elephant with the trunk facing up, and another with a shirt proclaiming "I jump for jackpots."

"I've been playing ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," she said.

"It's a big help to me. You meet people instead of staring at your four walls and sitting around."

Lane said she spent about $40 on the games.

Some players, like Debbie Spaid of Winchester, Va., were playing 27 bingo cards at the same time. A regular bingo player, Spaid won the first $1,000 prize awarded by the club.

"I just like to play. It's nice to get out and meet people," she said. Spaid said she plays two or three times a week. "This is a nice bingo. It really is."

Diane Beaver of Waynesboro, Pa., said she can't get enough bingo, traveling everywhere from State College, Pa., to Baltimore to Winchester for a game. She said she plays sometimes eight times a week and sometimes dreams about playing. Beaver predicted the club's bingo operation would hurt the other bingo operators. Beaver said she planned to spend a lot more time in Martinsburg rather than play at the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co.'s bingo hall.

Carl Faircloth, 53, of Martinsburg, said he also planned to spend a lot more time at the local bingo hall rather than at Halfway. He said he liked the idea of the money staying in town and said the Martinsburg hall was more convenient.

Bush said demand for the boys and girls clubs services have more than doubled in the past four years, requiring additional funds.

Four years ago, the club had 325 kids and a budget of $64,000. Now, the club has a budget, along with the Berkeley Springs Boys and Girls Club, of $170,000, with 800 kids.

"We're trying to reinforce what they get at school," he said. The 100 kids who come to the club each day vastly outnumber the handful of staff and volunteers, he said. "It's like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant."

About five years ago, a volunteer fire company tried to open a bingo parlor in the store, but it quickly closed, Bush said. He said that group hired a contractor to run the games, but said in West Virginia the charities must run the games themselves.

The bingo hall opens ever Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., with games starting at 4 p.m.

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