Making it to the front of the line at the ticket table this past Friday evening at The Press, Susan Legleiter, Hays, was buying her bingo supplies for the night. “I’ll have one of the minis, a speedball and a nine-view,” Legleiter said.
At another table, Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brothers Mason Runft and Zach Barker were selling pull-tabs.
This was the first bingo night in Hays since Bingo Haus closed its doors in March after three decades in business. It also was the first time for bingo at The Press, better known as a popular lunch and dinner restaurant.
As sponsors of the Bingo Haus games the past three years, the Alpha Gamma Rho brothers from Fort Hays State University had said in March they planned to be back. Many were skeptical, however, with so many bingo parlors falling by the way over the years.
But business in the entryway of The Press was steady Friday evening for the four ticket-selling Alpha Gamma Rho brothers.
“It’s a good crowd,” said Runft. “I’m kinda surprised.”
“It looks like tonight we might have a full house,” Barker said.
Legleiter, a bingo regular no matter where it’s played, looked at the crowd filling the bingo tables in the Heritage Room of The Press and said, “It’s going to be cozy.”
Another regular, Dianna Koerner, Hays, approached the pull-tab table and handed Barker $5.
“I only want to buy the winners,” Koerner said.
Tapping the stack in his hand, Barker assured her, “I’ve got them right here.”
Back at her table in the Heritage Room, Koerner pulled tabs, adding up her winnings with each pull and reaching $4.50.
“I saw it in the paper they were having bingo here, so I called my friend and said, ‘Let’s go,’” Koerner said. “So here we are.”
She and Jean Koerner share the last name because they married cousins. “But we’ve been friends for 50 years,” Jean said. “I think we met playing bingo.”
They tried to recall which bingo hall it was.
“It’s a nice thing to do here in Hays,” Jean said. “The same people that used to go all the time, those are the same faces here. I haven’t been for a long time.”
They approved of the setup in the hall, with its rows of tables and chairs, TV screens to display the numbers and a bingo console with microphone for the caller.
“This is kinda nice,” Dianna said. “We made a night of it and ate here.”
Wilma Unrein, Hays, played right up until the end at Bingo Haus. All the bingo regulars know Unrein’s reputation for being lucky. She didn’t give up bingo when Bingo Haus closed.
“We went to Great Bend on Sunday afternoons,” Unrein said.
Sitting at a table Friday evening with another bingo regular, Roxy Dorzweiler, Unrein grinned and said she was very happy that bingo is back in Hays, whether she wins or not.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I just enjoy playing bingo; it gives me something to do.”
She and her companions also ate Friday evening at The Press before heading to the Heritage Room.
Longtime Unrein friend Ollie Billinger, Hays, sat nearby with her daughter, Linda English, who had driven out from Kansas City.
“She came because she wanted to be here for the first bingo,” Billinger said. “She used to come all the time to play bingo, so she wanted to be here.”
Philip Kuhn, owner of The Press, stopped briefly while dashing some supplies to the concession stand.
“I never in a million years thought I was gonna be this busy,” Kuhn said of bingo’s opening night. “We’ve got people here from Ness City, Hill City, Russell, all over. They’re coming to eat and they’re coming to play bingo. Bingo players like to make an evening of it.”
There is room for expansion if need be, Kuhn said, including into other rooms and even onto the patio.
“We’ll need to buy more bingo boards and TVs,” he said.
Right now the only sponsor at The Press is Alpha Gamma Rho.
The past week the members were already in town, so taking a turn to man the bingo operation at The Press on Friday wasn’t a big deal.
“We all take different weeks volunteering, so we don’t have to work every week,” said Runft, a junior from Scandia.
“Today was move-in day, so it was kind of convenient for us,” said Barker, a junior from Sharon. “The other brothers will have to make special trips on Friday nights.”
Licensed through the state, bingo requires a nonprofit organization sponsor to operate the games, and a bingo hall owning the equipment, managing concessions and taking a percentage to pay rent and other costs.
The owners of the now closed Bingo Haus, Deb and Linus Pfannenstiel, Damar, said that at one time there were 16 bingos a week in Hays. Sponsors over the years included the Hays Baseball Association, the American Legion, Lucky Bucks, VFW and numerous churches and other nonprofits.
At the time Bingo Haus closed, their hall was the only weekly game in town and they were down to one night a week.
The regulars at The Press indicated it’s been a long couple of months without Friday night bingo.
Charlotte Weber, Victoria, said she’s been going to the casinos on Friday nights. Weber first heard about bingo at The Press from her daughter-in-law, who saw it on Facebook.
“Then I saw it mentioned in Sunday’s paper, and I knew then for sure it was happening,” Weber said. “We were all excited, we couldn’t wait til Friday.”
Andrea Hoss, Hays, was also a regular at Bingo Haus.
“I heard about it and called all my peoples,” she said from the other end of the table, adding that she has spent her Friday nights landscaping her yard.
Hoss is glad The Press brought back bingo, gesturing to her older friends at the table, including Betty Ostrom, Hays.
“At my age, I just stayed home with my dogs,” Ostrom said.
They like the setup too, Hoss said, but added “if they have crowds like this they’ll have to go bigger.”
The Press will hold bingo every other Friday night through the summer, with Gamma Rho sponsoring.
“They are coming back from their hometowns every other Friday night for this, so they will play it by ear and if it gets busy it could go to every Friday night,” Kuhn said.
The Heritage Room seats 130, compared to 250 to 280 at Bingo Haus. But Kuhn said he normally saw about 80 people playing at the Bingo Haus.
He’s talking now to other nonprofit organizations about getting their sponsor license also.
Kuhn said he also hopes to have bingo on Sundays and Wednesdays.
“If there are any nonprofits out there that want to make some extra money for their organization, we’ll set them up with the paperwork and the people they need to talk to,” he said.
Kuhn said his employees set up the room, supply all the bingo hardware and connect the sponsor with the bingo card distributor.
“We’ve streamlined the process and made it very easy for them,” he said. “It’s awesome for these groups; it’s a good way for them to make money. We’re hoping to get more fraternities and sororities who could use the money to do good in the community.”
The Press has been working to start bingo for a year, with Kuhn and the staff reading the more than 50 pages of state regulations that govern the industry in Kansas so The Press is compliant with state statutes.
Besides the restaurant, which opens at 5 p.m. on Friday evenings, the concession stand sells popcorn, candy bars, hot dogs and other bingo food.
“I tell everyone they should get here very early,” he said. “The earlier they can get here to claim a seat, the better.”
Tickets go on sale at 6:30 p.m., with 30 minutes of early-bird games starting at 7 p.m. The regular session, with 15 games, starts after that.
“By bingo law, we can’t give out more than $1,200 in prize money in a session,” Kuhn said. Blackout, usually the last game, will have a $500 prize, while regular games will have a $35 to $75 payout. There will also be special games with special prize amounts, he said.
“We can’t lose bingo in Hays,” Kuhn said. “I hear people say they are driving now to Great Bend, Stockton and Russell. It’s a form of entertainment that has always been in Hays.”