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CYBURBIA

It's a Web Addiction, and Bingo Is Its Name-O

March 25, 1997|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

My mother. The Internet.

Until recently, there was no link. I had thought it might be nice to get Mom equipped to go online so that she could check out the many seniors' sites on the Web, but unlike those of us who spend a great deal of time surfing the Net, my mother has a life--friends, the grandchildren, card games, keeping track of the weekends when her son forgets to call.

But now there is something on the Web that would actually interest my mom. Welcome to Bingozone, a Web site that presents a new bingo game every 20 minutes, 54 times a day (the site is active from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.).

Even though there are cash prizes, it's not gambling--the site takes pains to point out--but a contest because bingo games at the "zone" cost nothing to play, at least monetarily. Bingozone can become, however, as they say in Netspeak, a major time suck.

When you first go to http://www.bingozone.com, you're asked to register (also free) and you get your first look at the many on-screen advertisements, including one for Bingo Cruise '97, a three-day "luxurious cruise to the exotic Caribbean" featuring 75 live bingo games.

Sometimes, when you are looking at a site that features exotic body piercings, it's sobering to remember that you're only a click away from Bingozone. The home page also offers links to a bingo chat room, advice column and stories, my fave of which was from the Geneva Bingo Hall in a Canadian town where a young man, Greg, proposed to his girlfriend during a tournament. A few months later they married in the same hall with the "caller" as best man.

"After the service, the newlyweds played bingo, and as cupid's luck would have it, Greg won one of the hall's special prizes."

Who says romance is dead?

Finally, it's time to play. You are issued three on-screen bingo cards with the center squares, as is traditional, already marked in.

The pattern needed to win changes with each game--it can be a "plus sign" that hits the middle boxes in both directions, an L shape, etc. You'll have to fill in eight or nine squares, depending on the game, to win.

There's no way of telling how many people you're competing against--it can be up to 750 worldwide. Once a game starts, a new number-letter combination--such as B7 or N32--is chosen by the Bingozone computer every 20 seconds. To see them, you simply click on the "ready" button and they show up on your updated screen. Then you check your three cards, clicking in any boxes where the number appears.

You quickly get into the routine. It's simple, mindless and if you telephone me during a game, you're sure to get my answering machine. I got the bingo jones. After about 10 minutes, you can be sure that someone out there is getting close. Tension mounts. Every time the updated screen appears with a green background, you know you're about to get a new number-letter.

If the screen comes up yellow, it's all over. Someone has clicked "bingo" and has claimed the prize, which is usually all of $3 or $4. The highest prize is $20, but that's only on one game a day. If more than one person gets a valid bingo, the prize is divided among the winners.

The low prizes didn't keep me from playing "just one more game" during bingo binges several nights in a row. Twice, I came within a square of winning.

In the several times that I have joined my mom in her condo clubhouse in Florida to play bingo, I don't remember her ever winning. But I also don't remember her having anything less than a good time.

I am my mother's son.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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