But the excitement and crowds at the half-century-old hall about 20 miles from downtown Washington have evaporated as bingo loses players to death and competition — particularly Maryland’s slots parlors. And the most crushing blow could be yet to come, with a new casino likely to land in 2016 at National Harbor, about 30 minutes from Wayson’s, in the geographic heart of the old joint’s aging clientele.
“We’d like to think we can survive,” said D. Boone Wayson, whose father opened the bingo hall in 1959, in a building that had been used as a bowling alley and a ballroom. “We’d like to believe there are enough bingo customers who just want bingo. But bingo is a declining business.”
Commercial bingo once did a booming business in Anne Arundel County, where thousands of players from all over the area packed into a half-dozen halls on any given night to gamble and gab.
Now, there are just three bingo venues in the county: Delta Bingo in Laurel, Bingo World just outside Baltimore and Wayson’s, where billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn got his start as a gambling operator in the 1960s.
In 2011, the three halls generated $8.68 million in tax revenue, according to the Maryland Comptroller’s Office. But the state’s high-tech slots casinos are pulling away customers and cash: Since the $500 million Maryland Live casino opened in June at Arundel Mills, year-over-year bingo business in Anne Arundel is down by about 25 percent, the comptroller’s office estimates.
And more competition is coming for the bingos, which had already lost business to lottery games, casinos in nearby states and Internet gaming.
Caesars Entertainment is building a new casino in Baltimore. And this month, Maryland voters approved a dramatic expansion of gambling that will allow a casino to be built near Wayson’s, in Prince George’s County.
The passage of Question 7 also means table games and live dealers at Maryland’s casinos. But it’s the slots that worry the Wayson family most.
“Obviously, more machines and more places for people to play them will have a negative effect on our business,” Boone Wayson said. “You don’t just lose people; you lose the depth of their spend. You might see them three times a month instead of four, and they might spend 20 percent less when we do see them because they’ve gone to Maryland Live.”
Bingo, a modified form of an old Italian gambling game, was introduced in America in the 1920s and rose to popularity during the Great Depression, according to David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. As church groups and fraternal organizations began hosting low-stakes bingo games for charity, bingo became known as the most permissible form of gambling in America.