Diane Waitman may not get rich playing bingo. But she hopes to at least get younger.
The Mission Viejo resident ventures to the Huntington Beach Elks Lodge at 11 a.m. every Wednesday to try her luck with the numbers game, as she has for nearly 20 years. In between rounds in Surf City, she fits in others in Fountain Valley and Westminster. She seldom wins much money at the Elks Bingo Wednesday Matinee, but she credits the fast pace of bingo — in which participants listen to numbers and quickly mark them on their cards — for keeping her mind acute.
"It's a social game and keeps your brain active," Waitman said. "That's a proven medical fact, it really is, that bingo keeps your adrenaline going."
For that matter, players like Waitman keep bingo going in Huntington Beach. The Elks Lodge draws about 200 people on a typical Wednesday, and while more than a few of them go home with cash prizes, the biggest winners are charity groups around the Southland; the club gives out $30,000 or more every year.
Among the recipients are Relay for Life, Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, Costa Mesa Pop Warner and the Orange County Police Canine Assn., according to Jeanette Greer, a member of the Elks Lodge's charity committee. Admission to the games is $15 per person, and any proceeds remaining after expenses and prize money are given out go to charity.
"I'm not a bingo player," said Greer, whose husband, Tom, is the lodge's bingo manager. "I'm just in there volunteering."
The holiday season is particularly heavy for charity, Greer said, as the lodge donates Christmas baskets to military and low-income families. Recently, the lodge even donated to a veteran who had lost his legs. Still, Greer said, it can be hard at times to meet all the community's needs.
"We get a lot of requests," she said. "But you can't donate to everything, because you would be spending yourself blind. So sometimes, you have to say no."
The lodge took one week off bingo for the holidays, but will resume after the new year.
The club plays 25 rounds every time, with $250 in prize money, which can be divided among multiple winners, given out per round. A machine at the front of the room delivers numbered balls through a plastic tube and in front of a camera lens, while television screens mounted below the ceiling show the numbers as they emerge. Each player has a different card with rows of numbers, and the first person, or people, to mark off six numbers wins.
Although the majority of players are middle-aged or older, anyone older than 18 is allowed to play. For some, the social aspect of the game is more important than winning, said Cookie Shanahan, a longtime participant who visits every Wednesday with a group of friends.
"I lived here [in Huntington Beach] for 48 years," she said. "I put two kids through school. Now it's our turn to run away."
If You Go
What: Elks Bingo Wednesday Matinee
Where: Huntington Beach Elks Lodge, 7711 Talbert Ave.
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday
Information: (714) 848-9440