SUISUN CITY — Fairfield and Suisun City residents have a place to go after nearly five years without a local bingo hall, and it’s taking off.
Blue Devils Bingo in the Marina Shopping Center off Highway 12 opened in mid-October. It’s packed five days a week with more than 200 players.
The name of the game is fun, but behind it all is support for local nonprofits.
According to the Blue Devils Bingo website, it supports the Solano Soccer Club, the Armijo High Band Boosters, the Public Safety Academy, the Suisun City Community Services Foundation and the Suisun City Police and Fire Boosters.
Tom Hope, the hall’s manager, said he expects to contribute about $80,000 a year to local groups through live bingo games and other options the site offers.
The hall’s games pay out about 85 percent, Hope said, meaning that of all the money that comes in from players’ buy-ins and other purchases, 85 percent is paid out in winnings.
About $5,000 in prizes is on the line each day, Hope said.
The remaining 15 percent goes to pay for overhead such as hall rent and wages for the security staff, Hope said. Everything that’s left goes to the groups the hall supports, he said.
“One hundred percent of the net win goes to charity,” Hope said. “That’s why it’s called charity bingo.”
For those who benefit from the bingo games, Blue Devils has been a nice boost.
“It’s been great. The money that’s being generated – with this economy – is helping families to be able to afford soccer,” said Mike Pierce, president of the Solano Soccer Club.
Giving children an opportunity they might not otherwise have is the whole reason behind working bingo nights, Pierce said. The soccer club has thus far received one check for $2,500 from working one bingo night a week, he said.
As things move forward, the club has plans for bingo night to become a major part of its fundraising efforts.
“One night a week, we supply people,” Pierce said. “Other organizations are taking the other nights, which is great for them.”
The volunteers from each group work the floor, selling additional bingo games and assisting with any issues players may have.
With room for 275 players, Blue Devils gets plenty busy on weekends.
More than an hour from the first live game on a recent Friday night, the hall was filling up as players staked out their regular spots and gathered to socialize.
No one is far from a screen to know what numbers Hope is calling during the games. That’s because numbers are displayed on large flat-screen TVs, which replace the giant, cumbersome boards found at traditional bingo halls.
“That’s the future of gaming and bingo,” Hope said.
Bingo enthusiasts, who were left without a local place to play after a hall on North Texas Street closed several years ago, are happy to have Blue Devils.
“(I come here) every day that ends with a Y,” said Stephanie C. Harper-Haynes. “I usually come on Monday matinee, Thursdays and Sundays. Sometimes I come on Friday and Saturday, but those are usually my family days.”
Winning keeps Harper-Haynes coming back, but that’s not all.
“It’s a pastime. It’s relaxing,” she said. “I meet a lot of people and I know a lot of people who come from other halls, so you have your own little bingo community.”
Helping good causes doesn’t hurt, either.
Harper-Haynes, wife of Vanden High football coach LeVon Haynes, said she’s happy to help other groups.
For Simone Hazley of Fairfield, it’s as good an excuse as any to get out of the house.
“I like coming here because it’s like an outing for us all. We look forward as far as getting together,” Hazley said. “I meet a lot of people here. I met Ida, sitting right behind me. We just look forward to seeing one another. This is like – you know how some people play bridge? Well, we play bingo.”
Hazley lauded Hope for keeping the place clean and safe, in part by making sure the parking lot is patrolled.
“I have security staff. The law says I can pay security,” Hope said.
The fact that there’s a bingo hall close to home is also a big plus for many, especially after the last one closed.
“I’m really glad that Tom was able to put a bingo here for us (in) Solano County,” Hazley said. She occasionally ventures to the Blue Devils location in Concord, she said. “Now we are right back here, so it’s really nice. I love it here.”
Retired Air Force veteran Harry Bordallo sat at a table with a few friends while scanning his various cards and reminisced about a near 55-year bingo-playing career in the area.
“I’ve been here since 1959 – Travis Air Force Base,” said the retired technical sergeant. “Why move when you bought a house?”
He said he’s been playing bingo since it started at local Catholic schools and just kept going.
“I’m retired, nothing to do,” he said.
So he comes to Blue Devils to be social and have his fun.
“I get to meet a beautiful woman like this,” he said, pointing playfully to his neighbor across the table.
Bordallo said this when asked how often he plays: “If I don’t spend all my salary, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
Hope said he’s trying hard to change perceptions of bingo by updating the technology with electronic card minders, and other bingo games that can be played on large touchscreen devices as well as pull-tab cards that resemble lottery scratchers.
“Bingo is not an old people’s game,” he said. “There’s some old people, but there’s some young people and as we get closer to 6:30 p.m. there’ll be a lot.”
Two years in the making, Blue Devils is happy to be where it is, Hope said.
“There used to be a bingo hall in Fairfield on Texas Street up by Kmart and they quit operating about five years ago,” he said. “The customers in the area wanted another bingo hall. They didn’t want to drive to Vacaville, they don’t want to drive to Vallejo, and so we at Blue Devils saw an opportunity to build a hall.”
Now it’s become a part of the community.
“It’s a good community, we’re happy to be here,” Hope said.
That community is also happy to have Blue Devils.
After three years of renovations at the Marina Center, landing Blue Devils was a huge boost for the center’s owner, Redwood City-based Pellarin Construction Group.
“They’ve been very well received by the community,” said Claude Pellarin from his office at the center. “They’re getting very large crowds and that brings a lot of new interest and new customers to the center.”
After losing a number of tenants in recent years, Pellarin said the addition of Blue Devils was just what the area needed.
“It’s helped to re-energize the center,” he said. “It’s the major catalyst that will kick off the center.”
In just the few months since Blue Devils opened, it’s already made a difference.
“It has certainly brought a tremendous new interest to the center from tenants,” Pellarin said.
No more major renovations are planned for the center. Now it’s just a matter of filling the remaining empty store fronts.
“We’re in the final throes for finishing re-tenanting the center,” Pellarin said. “This year we look to bring in a significant amount of new tenants to the center.”
The hall is open for bingo four hours each day Thursday through Monday. Doors open a couple of hours before play begins to allow participants to get ready and to settle in.
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.