Bingo!!!

50 to 100 people play the game on the average day, as many as 200 people show up for special events

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For bingo enthusiasts working or playing the game is a reward in itself, winning is just a bonus. Helen Ratliff and Nadine Bauer, bingo callers and clerks at the Mazatzal Hotel and Casino, calling out numbers to a packed hall of eager bingo-goers is the best job in the place.

It is not like a job, Ratliff said. "We are one big happy family."

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Helen Ratliff calls out the numbers as patrons use daubers to blot the numbers on their cards with the hope of yelling, "Bingo!"

Both women are seasoned casino employees. Ratliff has worked at Mazatzal more than seven years and Bauer six.

Ratliff worked as a waitress all her life, but wanted to make a change and do something different. She made the switch to the casino and now, "thoroughly enjoys it."

Bauer also worked in the food industry, but is partial to being a game issuer.

Both women said there are no special tips or trick to playing bingo.

"It all depends on the balls," Ratliff said.

Ratliff says she plays the game every chance she gets and even goes on vacation to casinos so she can play the game.

With the advent of technology, more players are using computers to play along instead of using traditional paper sheets.

Machines the size of a laptop computer are issued to each player and automatically play along as the numbers are called. When the machine detects a bingo, it even tells the player to say bingo. "It is quite technical from the old days," Ratliff said.

Money-wise, the machines are the best deal, she said.

Only skilled players do both machine and paper cards.

A player can have 12 cards laid out in front of them, with the dauber frantically moving over the cards and a machine playing along quietly at her side. This method ups the odds that at least one card will yield a bingo.

However, for some players, multiple cards are not enough. They take the additional step of employing various lucky charms and traditions.

On the other side of the bingo machine sits seasoned player Sheri Sveback.

Sveback said she brings two charms with her for luck. "They don't really work."

Sveback also has a seat reserved near the caller. "I like to sit up front to be near the balls."

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E. Nunez basks in the light of winning a bingo game in the Bingo Room at Mazatzal Hotel and Casino. Nunez uses what is known as a Planet Hand Held Device, instead of marking bingo cards. The Planet Hand Held Device displays a bingo card and colors the numbers on the card as they are called out.

If she sees the right color ball come out, her hopes rise because it may be the number she needs.

"Everyone has their quirks," said Sveback, who has been playing the game since 1978 and on a regular basis since 1994.

What has been the reward for the tireless hours of play?

"I have not won much," she said, "$500 a couple of times."

Sveback has not won a game of bingo in more than three weeks and regularly dishes out $75 a night to play at the casino.

Asked how she can afford to play and not win, she said she is retired from the Mesa Police Department and has no bills, so this is the only thing she spends her money on.

Besides playing bingo, Sveback plays the slots and poker tables.

She once sat at a slot machine until 4 a.m. trying to get the machine to pay off, but it didn't. Sveback is not deterred by her losing streak and still loves "that suspense you feel in your stomach."

On a given day, some 50 to 100 people come to get that same feeling playing bingo, as many as 200 people show up for special events.

"They come from all over, down in the Valley and around," Ratliff said. "They like our bingo, so they come."

The stigma that it is an old women's game is wrong, Bauer said. A lot of women come, but so do men and younger people. They all get hooked on the game.

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