There’s yin and yang. There’s darkness and light. And then, there’s softball and bingo.
This unique marriage of opposites originated approximately 25 years ago when Softball Yukon was looking for fundraising ideas and struck upon bingo over the radio.
“We started looking at it, trying to understand how it works and designing it,” George Arcand, Executive Director of Softball Yukon, recalls. “We stepped our foot in it royally with all of the things that you learn as you go in the first year and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Radio/TV Bingo runs approximately from September to May — the softball off-season. It’s an organizational feat. Every Saturday morning, the packages for the following Friday’s action are made available at sellers in every community in the Yukon. Some sellers are retailers, while others are just individuals.
Each bingo Friday, Arcand and a team of volunteers conduct the bingo at a local TV studio, which includes monitoring a phone bank for potential bingos. Winning cheques are available on Monday morning for pick up, or are mailed out.
Radio/TV Bingo guarantees $20,000 worth of prizes in 12 games each week. But it is the 13th game that keeps people interested because of the progressive bonus, which can grow from week to week.
It’s not just the money that keeps people playing, though. It’s a combination of Yukon’s particular laws on gaming and its remote nature.
Firstly, Yukon does not allow licensing of dedicated bingo halls, only for the purpose of charity fundraising. There is no permanent location for bingo, and less opportunity for players.
Secondly, radio bingo provides an opportunity for people throughout the territory to play, without having to come to Whitehorse for the games held at the Elks Hall.
“With Radio/TV Bingo, you don’t need a babysitter,” says Arcand. “You have all the creature comforts of home — pajamas, booze, and friends.”
But even if you’re not with friends, Radio/TV Bingo keeps you connected to everyone else in a way that internet bingo never will.
Dinah Laing, is an occasional, but enthusiastic player.
“In the winter it’s a really good time, and really social,” she says. “Our friends in Champagne have a huge kitchen that just fills up on bingo night.”
The slow pace of the games adds to the sociability.
“You’ll get someone from Ross River phone in and you’ll have to wait until they verify the bingo,” says Laing. “I wouldn’t do it on my own because it’s slow, but you turn it into a social event and it becomes a lot of fun.”
Dawn, another frequent player, points out that because you can hear who phones in, it can surprise you who else is playing.
Arcand admits that the broadcasters don’t likely get much positive feedback about the bingo-dominated airwaves nearly every Friday night, but the availability of digital entertainment makes these different times from 25 years ago.
“It used to be that all you had to listen to was the radio so we’d have people telling us there’s no music to listen to on a Friday night,” he says.
This is no longer the case.
The benefits, however, are clear to Arcand.
“The reason we do these bingos as consistently as we have is to achieve what we do, which is that softball is free to every kid in the Yukon,” he says.
The proceeds provide free registration, uniforms, equipment, field maintenance and grooming. In addition, Softball Yukon has hosted two impressive World Championships and is set to hold another in 2014.
Much like Radio/TV Bingo, softball is truly community-oriented. It can be enjoyed from childhood through to adulthood without the pressure of becoming elite or competitive.
“We always say you can play from diaper to diaper,” Arcand jokes. “We start kids when they’re 5 and we have seniors and masters that play right through to 70-plus.”
Now that’s a bonus.