USS Bataan sailors go bonkers for bingo
ABOARD THE USS BATAAN — Petty Officer 1st Class Erice Jackson sprinted from one end of the 844-foot ship to the other, hurdling through passageway vestibules like an Olympic track star.
There was no fire or emergency, but he had little time to waste.
They just called his number.
He had B-I-N-G-O.
“I think we have a winner!” Petty Officer 1st Class Jamey Atkins shouted as Jackson arrived with his card in hand.
Some people might think that the game of bingo is only for chain- smoking, gray-haired retirees. But it is one of the most popular pastimes on large U.S. Navy ships, where jackpots can exceed $2,500.
The Bataan — where the average age on board is 22 — held “Big Bucks Bingo” last Saturday as the ship steamed toward the Persian Gulf with Marines bound for Iraq.
The Morale, Welfare and Recreation department sold cards for $5 a piece or five cards for $20. During Saturday’s big game, dozens of sailors in the mess deck played as many as 10 cards at a time, hoping to increase their chances of winning $150 to $500.
A group of sailors called out the numbers on a TV show broadcast on the ship’s closed-circuit television system. 1st Lt. Mark Fowler, a Marine pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261, dressed in an Elvis costume and wig and made the game comical.
“Bravo four. Bravo four,” Fowler said as Petty Officer 1st Class Lee Johnson wrote the No. 4 under the “B” on a white board.
Bingo winners not only have to have more than just a winning card. They have to run like the wind.
On some ships, the first person to the studio takes the top prize. Sailors and Marines playing in their living quarters or work spaces often have to scale several flights of stairs and run the length of several football fields to collect.
New sailors often get lost on aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships trying to find the studio. They’ll frantically call for directions, said Lt. Cmdr. Randy Dossey, the Bataan’s recreation director, also known as the “Fun Boss.”
“You’ll be like ‘It’s in frame whatever’ and give them directions on how to get up here,” he said. “It’s pretty funny.”
On the Bataan, players had to claim their prize in a certain amount of time or ring the studio and say, “Bingo!” The twist is that all winning cards on the Bataan receive the same amount of cash. So, if three people have winning cards, they don’t have to split the money.
However, if they don’t get to the studio in time, they could be out of luck. Jackson, 24, arrived at the studio trying to catch his breath but grinning from ear to ear.
He won $150.
“I was on this level but way forward,” he said. “The phone number was busy, so I took off running.”
The Navy has played bingo on ships for years, but nobody knows exactly how it became so popular. Every weekend, the Bataan offers bingo, karaoke or movies played on a big screen in the hangar bay. It’s all to boost morale.
Although clubs and church organizations often hold bingo nights to raise cash, Dossey said that the ship usually only breaks even.
While a few hundred bucks would lift anybody’s spirits, most people enjoy the games, win or lose.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Diana Zunigh, 21, has won as much as $650 and usually spends around $50 on tickets.
“I play it for fun,” she said. “But it’s more fun when you win.”