Barbara Spaulding of Ticonderoga is a dedicated bingo player. The Ticonderoga Fire Department may close its weekly bingo games after 40 years.
Bingo is more than a game to the Ticonderoga Fire Department.
“Bingo has meant a lot to us over the years,” Jeff Burns, Ti fire chief, said. “We’ve purchased a lot of equipment, funded our fire prevention efforts, provided scholarships at school and done a lot of other things using bingo money. We’ve saved taxpayers a lot of money.”
Now in its 40th year, bingo is played every Thursday at 6:45 p.m. at the Ticonderoga fire station on Montcalm Street.
“We’re one of the longest running bingo games in the state,” Matt Watts, assistant chief, said. “A lot of bingo games have shut down. Interest seems to be dying.”
Interest is also down in Ticonderoga, prompting fire officials to consider the future of the weekly games.
In the 1990s bingo used to attract upwards of 140 people a week, Watts said. The bingo games Jan. 16 drew 32 players. At one point bingo added $30,000 a year to the department coffers. Last year it generated $9,000.
“We need 40-45 people to break even,” Watts said. “People just aren’t coming like they used to. I know January is a tough time — it’s right after Christmas, taxes are due, there are high heating costs — but our attendance has been down for a while.”
“There have been nights when we have more volunteers (firefighters) than we have players,” Burns said.
That’s prompting firefighters to consider changes. Watts interviewed players recently asking their opinions. Many asked for larger prizes.
There is a $1,000 guaranteed minimum pot at Ti bingo, Watts said. That pot increases depending on the number of players.
“We’d like to increase the pots, but we can’t lose money,” Watts said. “I’m sure bigger pots would attract more people, but we need more people to have bigger pots. We really need to boost attendance.”
Burns said there have been discussions about suspending bingo until the spring.
“We hate to do that,” he said. “We’re afraid we’ll lose the people we have now. They may find someplace else to go or something else to do.”
Ticonderoga Fire Department hosts the only weekly bingo games in the area, Watts and Burns said.
“You used to be able to play every night,” Watts said. “St. Mary’s School, the Knights of Columbus, the Elks, a lot of groups had bingo. We’re the only one left.”
Bingo at the Ticonderoga fire station can be an economical entertainment, Watts said. Players must purchase a $3 admission card. Then there are various packages for players, ranging from $2-$12.
The Ticonderoga Fire Department is supported by local taxpayers, but money raised from bingo has helped keep taxes down in past years.
“We’ve bought a lot of equipment over the years with bingo money,” Watts said. “We bought a ladder truck with bingo money. Our first Jaws of Life was bought with bingo money.”
“We’ve saved taxpayers a lot of money by using bingo money rather than district funds,” Burns said.
The Ti Fire Department Auxiliary sells food during the weekly bingo games. The auxiliary uses proceeds from the food sales to assist firefighters. With fewer people attending bingo, food sales are also down.
“Indirectly, we’re losing money there, too,” Burns said. “Money from the food sales goes to the auxiliary, but they buy equipment for us and help us in other ways.
“If we close bingo the impact falls on the fire department and the auxiliary,” he said. “Bingo has a big affect on our department.”