The Rev. Chris Moore calls it "the blast before the fast."
In a kind of last hurrah of gaming and merrymaking before the solemn Lenten season, St. Joseph Catholic Church celebrated its ninth annual Casino Night and Auction Saturday in Hagerstown.
Beads and dice adorned the parish center as people entered, some of them sporting elaborate masks and boas.
"It's become our last time for a big blowout kind of party each year before Ash Wednesday," Moore said. "It's like the real Mardi Gras. In New Orleans, they do it on Tuesday. We do it on Saturday, and that way people have a chance to recuperate."
Dressed in his clerical clothes and collar, along with a jester hat and whimsical purple, green and gold glasses, Moore stood at the Beat the Dealer table challenging gamblers to "ride it out" — gaming speak for "keep on betting."
Event Chairwoman Marguerite Lesky said tickets cost $25 and covered the cost of an elaborate buffet and $50 in play "house money."
A cash bar opened at 7 p.m., along with numerous games of chance, including bingo, casino games with cards, wheels and dice, and Trivial Pursuit.
Attendees could use house money to pay for up to one half of items in a live auction that was scheduled to begin at 9:45 p.m. Auction items were donated by area businesses and included a flat-screen TV and a two-week trip to Honolulu.
Lesky said she expected around 150 people to attend the event, which typically raises around $10,000. Proceeds benefit the St. Joseph Parish Building and Expansion Fund, Lesky said.
Members of the Hagerstown Exchange Club run the games in exchange for a fee, which they donate to the Parent-Child Center.
Wade and Tracey Deckman, both 43, of Oakland, Md., went to Mardi Gras with their friends Brian and Melissa Noel, 40 and 38, respectively, of Fairplay, who are St. Joseph parishioners.
Tracey Deckman and Melissa Noel wore festive masks and hats.
"We came all the way here just for this," Tracey Deckman said. "I think this is really neat."
"It's gonna be a blast. Just a good night of clean fun," Melissa Noel said.
Lesky said while St. Joseph parishioners are supportive of the event, surrounding communities have responded favorably as well.
Linda Haffner of Frederick, Md., and her friend Duffy Wright of Falling Waters, W.Va., said they saw the fundraiser advertised in the paper and decided to attend.
"I'm a gambler," Wright said, joking as he dropped his house money at the Big 6 Wheel.
"We just thought it would be a lot of fun," Haffner said.