Most of us are familiar with bingo games sponsored by Catholic churches across North America. The Catholic Church has used bingo as a fund raising tool for decades. The revenue generated is used to fund a wide variety of activities including, social services, Catholic charities, Missionary work, and Tuition at parochial schools. Bingo has been wildly successful and generates millions of dollars each year to support all these services. Charitable organizations and Veterans groups, most notably the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have operated successful bingo games across the US and Canada.
There is one group that most people do not associate with bingo, yet during the great depression they were as well known as the Catholic Church for sponsoring bingo games. During the depression when the average person was searching for inexpensive entertainment, Jewish Synagogues commonly sponsored bingo games. During those days of dwindling incomes the average person was forced to forego more expensive forms of entertainment and seek out more inexpensive pleasures.
On the East coast Catholic churches and Synagogues operated weekly bingo nights that were wildly popular and drew thousands of paying customers. During the depression era even movie houses used bingo to draw customers and boost attendance. Bingo was not without its opponents. In 1938 mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York ordered a temporary bingo ban. La Guardia used fear of underworld intrusion as an excuse for the ban or as one official put it, ‘mercenary intruders’. The New York legislature, in short order, changed the law stating that bingo could only be played in churches or synagogues with the proceeds going exclusively to charity.
La Guardia pressed for a total ban and the archdiocese of New York ordered the games discontinued in 1942. Presbyterians soon followed stating that bingo and other games of chance “not in keeping with the Christian doctrine and life.” The Jews, having no central authority, continued the games on a congregation by congregation basis. Opposition grew and by 1955 the New York board of Rabbis declared, “The raising of funds through bingo games, even for worthy causes, is not in consonance with the high standards of morality and dignity which the synagogue sets for the general community.” Bingo games finally disappeared from Synagogues forever leaving the Catholic Church as the biggest religious sponsor of bingo.
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