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Students are playing bingo in a ballroom.

Bingo is the name-o of the game-o for many Dons

Bingo has a stereotype of church ladies filled with bloodthirsty passion playing for money, slamming markers on the table with exultation or frustration as each number is announced.

That’s not how bingo works at Purdue University Fort Wayne, though there’s plenty of passion and energy. It is also wildly popular and may be the only campus activity limited to the first 350 participants during certain sessions.

The most recent bingo event, held Dec. 7 during the week before finals and sponsored by Well-Being and Recreation, saw students lining up outside Walb Student Union’s International Ballroom three hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. start time. Eventually, more than 300 attended.

For bingo?

“Bingo is one of those age-old games that everyone likes to play,” said James Velez, director of student life (and sometimes known as bingo ringmaster). “It gives students a chance to hang out with friends. There are nearly 400 spaces for 16 prizes. You take that chance and hopefully, you have a lot of fun.”

Truthfully, it’s mostly about the prize; almost everything a college student salivates over is a potential award because this was an end-of-the-semester blowout.

For the Dec. 7 event, the rewards included Beats headphones, gift cards to Crazy Pinz, Combat Ops, and the Mastodon Campus Store, a gaming chair, a hover scooter, an air fryer, a cornhole set, tickets to watch comedian Jeff Dunham, a television, and several smaller prizes. There were also jar content guessing options and an ugly sweater contest.

How can you beat that for attracting attention?

You can’t, though Velez and his staff ask students what prizes they’d be interested in and shop year-round to catch the best sales and deals.

Adding to the environment are guest callers who help orchestrate the enthusiasm. Chief Diversity Officer MarTeze Hammonds got a turn this time. A half-hour before the event, he was slurping on coffee to find some vitality, but as soon as things started, he was in high gear and having fun, adding to and feeding off the crowd’s liveliness.

The Office of Student Life offers bingo once a month with huge blowouts at the end of each semester when the number of prizes is doubled. After experiencing the game at a previous institution, Alex Backer, director of Student Leadership and the Student Government Association, suggested bingo to Velez at orientation before the 2021–22 academic year.

“I felt confident that it would draw students because I saw it work before,” Backer said. “James was very open to seeing if I was right. Thankfully, I was!”

And every student stays until the end and helps clean up. It also gathers folks from every class, gender, nation, and creed.

“I think it’s really fun,” said accounting major Aileen Delaney, who comes with her boyfriend, fellow sophomore Eli Hilger. “When Eli and I came the first time, we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what is this?’ It’s like the climax of fun at PFW.”

No, accounting majors do not have any advantages to winning, though Delaney has won twice, including tickets to see Jason Aldean in concert.

“The people who have been to bingo know what it’s about, but some of the people in my classes have no idea about it and think it’s boring,” Delaney said. “If you’ve been to bingo, you know!”

Hilger agrees.

“I don’t know why it works, but I want to be there, though, because I’m missing other things I could be at,” Hilger said.

But in other ways, bingo makes perfect sense for PFW students.

“A lot of them are commuting and working, so when you have an event like this, it’s at a good time of the day, and it’s very simple,” said SGA President Sebastien Wilson. “All you have to do is sign in. I think a big part of it is the Office of Student Life’s ability to engage with students. James knows the right people and is very effective at getting the word out.”

But Velez says he doesn’t have to do much advertising because students are always asking him when the next bingo night is, including during orientation, at athletic events, and during the Campus Kickoff picnic.

“You get to see everybody just be happy and take a break from classes,” said sophomore human relations major Nevaya Deck. She won the ugly sweater contest at December’s session with a combination of heads featuring Baby Grinch, three reindeer including Rudolph, a teddy bear, and a long stocking. “We’re making bingo the new thing! We’re making bingo cool!”

The next bingo night, featuring eight prizes, will be Jan. 18.