Photos and Story by Tom Loughlin Jr.
April 22,2022, Utica NY—Visiting the new Ancient Order of Hibernians-sponsored Bingo games at Utica’s Irish Cultural Center, one is immediately struck with the bright lighting, and top-flight computerized action screens—which flash all gaming processes to the players, and a great sound system. The quick and courteous help given and attention paid to the players by attending Hibernians was obvious after a short time.
Watching the action, player heads bobbed up to catch the next ball number, then down again to mark the cards with an excited, “BINGO!” punctuating the intense concentration. When the “Bingo” shout went out like a flash, one of the Hibernians staffing the game would dash to the potential winner’s table to verify the winning card’s numbers with the “caller.” When the numbers read right, the call, “that’s a valid bingo,” would ring out and the winning player would be paid.
Staying after the gaming in hopes of catching a comment or two from players as they left the I.C.C., it turned out that no eavesdropping was needed. Player after player made it a point to stop on their way to the parking lot to tell the Hibernians staffing the games how much they liked the I.C.C. venue and their operations.
Player A: “I’ve never seen a Bingo hall this clean and bright!”
Player B: “I’ve never seen a cleaner restroom!”
Player C: “This is the best Bingo operation I have ever played. I’m 79, and I have been playing Bingo almost all my life. I’ve played them all and this is the best.” She added, “And where else are they going to give you a free cup of coffee? Nowhere.” She repeated, “This is the best.”
I was standing next to Oneida County, NY Hibernian President Patrick Roach when that “Player C” lady, (who recognized me from my old-time job as a sportswriter at the local daily paper), made that comment. She had won the last game of the day. Its plus-sized payout had netted her over $600. It was little wonder that she was so generous with her praise.
With the hall cleared, and wrap-up operations underway, it was time to ask AOH Oneida County President Roach what had motivated the Hibernians and the Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley, (their legal name), to initiate a Bingo operation? Roach didn’t hesitate when asked about the genesis of the project.
“Our primary investor, Vaughn Lang, came up with the idea of us hosting Bingo here. He set us up with an equipment and supplies provider, Ralston Supply, which provided the machines, the cards, and pull tabs. We had to apply to the city for a gaming license, and register all our volunteers. I am in charge of the operation to make sure it comes off right every week.
Regarding the purpose for adding Bingo to I.C.C operations, Roach said, “The project is aimed at raising money to pay specific expenses at the building. Roach added that Bingo proceeds will free up other funds which can be used to energize and enhance other Hibernian projects.
Members of the Hibernians, both the men’s, John C. Devereux Division One, and the Our Lady of Knock Division 17 of Oneida County, serve in positions of responsibility to assure a quality operation. All the way from the sale of Bingo cards through payout of cash prizes, the gaming is 100% Hibernian operated, with organizational pride assuring an exceptional gaming experience for all players.
Jeffrey Ish is the caller who tells the players what number is up. Pat Costello is the floor manager. He checks the cards when someone wins and pays them their cash. Roach continued that when he was not working as the caller, he assisted on the floor to make sure everyone was getting what they needed. The operation has met with outstanding success— so much so that President Roach says he is in desperate need of more volunteers to help establish a rotation to run the weekly operation.
The future looks bright for the Irish Cultural Center bingo operation. Asked what the future held for the Hibernian gaming, Roach said play would likely go into early June, except for, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Roach added that operation during the summer months was being discussed, but volunteer availability during the summer would be problematic, (even more so than now). The draw of outdoor activities here and in the Adirondacks during the all-too-short summer here have the Hibernians considering a summer Bingo hiatus and a fall grand re-opening.
Irish Cultural Center/Hibernian Bingo Sundays open with a Five Points Pub brunch starting at 11 a.m.; Bingo hall doors opening at 2 PM, with the first games starting at 4 PM. The I.C.C. is located at 623 Columbia Street, Utica NY. Interested parties can call the center at (315) 733-4228 for more information.