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Bingo goes upscale with chandeliers, a baby grand

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Cathy Dobson

Bingo has never felt so swanky.

In a bid to attract more players to Sarnia’s last remaining hall, Bingo Country Holdings Ltd. is doing a complete overhaul of its building and adding new attractions like eBingo and a piano lounge.

Bingo Country, which is changing its name to Jackpot City, continues to operate fully during the renovations, which are expected to be complete Oct. 7.

Every square inch of the building is being updated. A lounge featuring elegant chandeliers, a baby grand piano, two fireplaces and 30 electronic break-open ticket machines is taking shape at the Upper Canada Drive building.

The adjacent bingo room has been gutted top to bottom with new tables, carpet, a stage and touch screen electronic bingo, although traditional bingo cards and daubers will still be available.

Even the restaurant and washrooms are being modernized.

Bingo Country is the 32nd hall in Ontario to introduce eBingo and undergo renovations with the signing of an eight-year agreement that involves its charities, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and the municipality.

Ten years ago, the OLG began rolling out eBingo and making the halls feel more like a casino in a bid to revitalize the industry and attract more players and money.

Bingo Country Holdings waited to see how eBingo faired in other cities with casino gambling before taking the plunge, said manager George Prue.

“This new gaming model has given us the confidence to put money back into this building,” he said.  It’s been nearly 20 years since Bingo Country renovated its Sarnia hall.

“When the Ontario marketplace was going backwards 15% to 18% every year, you didn’t want to make this kind of investment,” Prue said, declining to say exactly how much the remodeling is costing.

Since the introduction of eBingo and the physical makeover of nearly three dozen halls in Ontario, the industry has started to turn around, increasing as much as 18% per year, he said.

“This is huge for bingo in Sarnia,” said Carol Barr, Sarnia’s bingo licensing clerk.

“We used to have 10 or 11 halls with 200 charitable groups running bingos. Sarnia used to be called the Bingo Capital of Ontario,” she said.

“Now all the other halls are closed and we have 96 charities, all at Bingo Country.  We think the OLG’s changes will be good for everybody. Change is hard sometimes but I think it will be really great for the charities, in particular,” Barr said. “The charities will get revenue from every single dollar spent there.”

Local charities ranging from Big Brothers to the Kidney Foundation, local high schools and the United Way, host sessions at Bingo Country.  Under the old rules, volunteers sold the cards, handled the money and did call backs. That will change on Oct. 7.

Under the new agreement, Bingo Country – now Jackpot City – will hire the equivalent of eight more full-time people to do all the selling.

Volunteers will be greeters only, wearing uniforms and promoting their charities, said Shirley Pettit, president of the local gaming association, which represents all 96 charities at the hall.

“With casinos in our area, it’s been a struggle for us to hold our own or do well,” she said.  “But we predict that all these changes will attract new players, especially younger ones, and within six months we’ll be in better shape than we have been for a long time.”


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