Locations such as Planet Bingo, on the outskirts of Pordenone a few minutes from Aviano Air Base, Italy, are seemingly always open for business. It’s not just fun and games, though —real money is at take.

Locations such as Planet Bingo, on the outskirts of Pordenone a few minutes from Aviano Air Base, Italy, are seemingly always open for business. It’s not just fun and games, though —real money is at take. (Kent Harris / S&S)

ZOPPOLA, Italy — This is not your grandmother’s version of bingo.

Often seen as a game for kids or senior citizens in the States, bingo is big business in Italy.

There are bingo parlors — though the phrase “bingo casinos” might seem more appropriate — throughout the country. Both of Vicenza’s malls sport them. The most prominent one near Aviano Air Base is Planet Bingo, which is off the SS-13 on the outskirts of Pordenone.

The business, which debuted in 2001, opens daily at 1 p.m. and closes when the number of customers starts to run low. That’s sometimes as late (or early) as 6 a.m.

There’s a large section for smokers and another for non-smokers. Customers can order drinks and snacks in either section or take a break downstairs at the bar, which features a large-screen television. Weekdays, Planet Bingo offers a free sampling of pasta dishes from 7 to 8 p.m. Otherwise, there are items such as sandwiches and pizza at reasonable prices. Drinks aren’t as expensive as they are at many clubs.

Kids are welcome, but you have to be 18 to actually play. The clientele is mixed, with a younger crowd tending to come in on the weekends. During the week, many customers are regulars and seem to take their bingo playing very seriously.

In order to play, a customer chooses a table and then pays an attendant for a card. Most cards cost 1 euro. Cards for special games run from 50 euro cents to 3 euros. Those interested in playing again must buy a new card each time. Customers can play virtually as many cards as they want each time (machines are available to allow up to 9,000 cards at once), but most opt for only a single card or a few at their tables. Games typically last about six minutes, so playing single cards continuously for an hour would run about 10 euros.

The numbers are called out quickly, so those wanting to learn their numbers in Italian can get a (relatively) cheap lesson. Numbers called are flashed on a screen in each table and all the numbers called appear electronically on several boards located on the parlor walls. There isn’t a lot of English spoken at Planet Bingo, though dollars are accepted.

The game itself varies a bit from the U.S. version. There are 15 numbers, with a lot of blank spaces. People can win by collecting all five numbers in a horizontal line for “Cinquina.” The game doesn’t stop there, though, continuing until someone has all 15 numbers crossed off for “Bingo.” If you can fill out your card with fewer than 40 numbers called, the prize money rises.

The largest single Super Bingo prize given at the Planet Bingo was 17,000 euros. As of Wednesday night, that pot was at about 6,000 euros. The payoffs for “Cinquina” and standard “Bingo” wins are considerably less.

As always, if you drink, do so responsibly. Don’t drink and drive.

Planet Bingo

Zoppola, Italy

Location: Via Risiera 6, just off the SS-13 on the outskirts of Pordenone. Coming from Aviano, cross the bridge and turn left into the parking lot after a few blocks. You’ve gone too far if you reach the large traffic circle.

Hours: 1 p.m. until early in the morning every day, including holidays.

Prices: It costs from 50 cents to 3 euros for a single card to play a game. Most are 1 euro. Food runs from the cheapest sandwich at 2.50 euros to the highest priced pizza at 5.50 euros. Coca-Cola costs 2 euros. A rum and Coke runs 4.50 euros.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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