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The Bingo Bible : Two Sun Valley businessmen, who run a newspaper chain for players, have opened a store that offers gaming paraphernalia.

September 17, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster is a regular contributor to The Times

SUN VALLEY — They could be described as Los Angeles' reigning bingo czars.

Ten years ago, Sun Valley business partners Don Carrier and Steve Mont gomery bought a bingo newspaper chain, the Bingo Bugle, that is now regarded as the "Bingo Bible" by the game's enthusiasts. Two years ago, they opened Bingo Novelty World in Sun Valley, attracting players to a new line of gaming paraphernalia--including bingo card watches, light-up bingo caps and bingo key chains, cushions, coasters, T-shirts and lucky trolls.

"Bingo has lots of accessories that people buy to make playing easier--or at least more interesting," said Carrier, a former Army sergeant who opened a second Bingo Novelty World store in May in Las Vegas.

The Bingo Bugle, a 42-page monthly tabloid distributed to 175 bingo halls in Los Angeles County, is dense with advertisements for halls. It also includes winners' photos and such stories as "Bingo Caller Calls It Quits After 20 Years" and "Bingo Bookkeeping Can Cause Stress."

The headlines are not exactly breaking news, but Carrier said his free papers, with a circulation of 110,000, provide players with a "network and a way to connect with bingo happenings and trends." Players consider the Bingo Bugle an essential reference guide that's almost as hallowed as the game.

Montgomery added: "As with any gamblers, bingo players like to travel. They keep current on what's going on in different areas, like games on Indian reservations. They plan their vacations around the information we supply."

At any of the 18 bingo halls in the San Fernando Valley, players can be seen scouring Bingo Bugles for the "Dear Aunt Bingo" column, the "Bingo Astrology Forecast," "Bingo Crossword" and the "Bingo Sisters" gossip column.

"We get about 300 copies a month and they go real fast," said Frank Locascio, manager at Temple Beth Ami Bingo in Reseda. "The paper is aimed at all levels--workers, volunteers, players, licensing and regulating officials, and managers of bingo halls, like me. Players like it because they can keep track of who's winning."

Besides bingo halls, the papers are also distributed to 2,000 outlets, including senior citizen homes, mobile-home parks and food stores.

Five Bingo Bugle employees put out the papers, performing graphic design and layout work at the Sun Valley location. The business contracts out for printing and distribution.

Carrier and Montgomery are owners of four Bingo Bugle newspaper franchise markets. Two cover Los Angeles County, one covers the Inland Empire and another covers Nevada. The partners also distribute the Manager's Assistant, a quarterly directory of bingo suppliers mailed to 50,000 bingo halls in the United States. A catalogue of merchandise from their Bingo Novelty World stores is direct-mailed to 30,000 bingo players across the country twice each year.

Their bingo venture revenues total about $500,000 each year. With the addition of the Las Vegas retail store, Carrier and Montgomery said they expect to be shouting "Bingo!" more often.

The new 2,000-square-foot showroom, just off the Las Vegas Strip, is timely in that major casinos, such as Caesars Palace, have added bingo halls over the past five years. And most new casinos on the drawing board have bingo halls.

"Like other gaming outlets in the U. S., bingo is on a tremendous growth curve," said Roger Snowden, who has sold 72 Bingo Bugle franchises with a combined circulation of 1 million. "Bingo is more friendly than other games. It provides an entire night's entertainment and not just the quick rush you get from buying a lottery ticket."

At least one other retail store, Bookmart U.S.A., offers bingo kitsch in the Valley. Most K mart stores offer such bingo essentials as daubers used to mark cards, Snowden said.

"A lot of people think these items are just superfluous, but players consider them essential," said Bookmart U.S.A. owner Anne Anthony, who began carrying a selection of 60 bingo items 12 years ago. "Players constantly need daubers to mark their cards and bingo bags to carry all their stuff--and cushions to sit on when they don't move from one spot for four hours."

Where and When What: Bingo Novelty World, 7516 San Fernando Road, Sun Valley. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Call: (818) 504-2816. What: Bingo Bugle's 24-hour recorded service that lists bingo venues in Los Angeles County. Call: (818) 342-8453.

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