For store Bingo players: 424 is not, in fact, a Safeway control number. The intendend number in the Style story of Sept. 15 was 444.
MEMO: To the rotten so-and-so who pinched my Safeway bingo card (and numbers) off my desk. Nyah, nyah, won't do you any good. Didn't have a winning row. Not even close.
You see, the way it is, it doesn't matter what the playing card looks like, nobody's going to win the Big Bingo without a certain little number the people who promote grocery store games call a "control number."
If you haven't got that number, no different cards are going to help you win. And no purloined numbers, if theyare just common numbers, will help fill out your card either.
If you have that number and nothing else, man, hang in there, you could be a winner!
There's always been something seductive about bingo, and something nostalgic too. For decades it was considered the country's most popular gambling game, even when it was banned. It conjures up images of Catholic Church fund-raisers, of rainyday beaches, of great urban halls filled with windows and retirees, pouring over cards at 25 cents or a buck or five bucks each, clutching fistsful of large yellow corn kernels, straining to hear the calls of Bee-fourteen or Enn-for-tee-two, hour after hour, ready to shriek at the drop of the last kernel in the row . . . BINGO!
It is, says the dictionary, a game like lotto or keno. Now Keno, there's a word with a nice, legitimate eytmology: from quinque, as in five.Cover up five numbers in a row and you win.
Then at the end of the keno definition it says, "see bingo."
A lot of people around town are seeing bingo these days.
Because Safeway and A&P are playing bingo.
You don't have to shop to play.
You can win 1,000 bucks.
In the Safeway game, you can even win $100,000.
In the A&P game you can win "a product."
It's not a crooked game.
And, to the cautious delight of spokesmen for the food chains, more people are coming into grocery stores than ever.
Washington and suburbs are bingo mad.
In the Safeway game, on of the control numbers is 408.
From the wanted column in classifieds on morning last week: "SAFEWAY BINGO NO. 408 -- $200 . . . "
"Well," the woman who placed the ad giggled, "I saw some other ads and my boyfriend and I thought it was worth the try.The classified taker laughed and said, 'Now you let us know if you win . . . '"
"Yes I know they're doing that," sighs Ernie Moore, Safeway spokesman and bingo maven. "It really isn't going to get anybody anything. If you have the missing number you're probably a winner yourself."
Moore will not say exactly what bingo has done for Safeway, but you can hear the glee in his voice, almost see him rubbing his hands together over the bingo gold mine.
"Let me just say," he says carefully, "we consider it to be a very successful promotion. It's very worthwile. We've gotten a lot of new people into our stores and we hope to keep them there."
Another Safeway control is 424. Also, we hear, 475 and possibly 445. Don't call us . . .
Milt Herrick is executive vice president of a Chicago company called merchandise Service Inc. It is a firm which sells promotional materials to businesses like grocery stores. It sells dishes (buy a cup a week and you get a saucer cheap -- that sort of thing), pots and pans, encyclopedias, cookbooks. aAnd bingo games.
Store bingo, he says, "has really been around for a long time.It's sort of cyclical."
It was very popular in the mid-'60s, he says, and was often used by gas stations, for example, to "seed winners" in places where business hadn't been too good. ("That, of course, was before we were in this business," he notes quickly.)
Anyway, because those games were sort of, well, rigged, the Federal Trade Commission set up some stringent rules and regulations for the games "and that sort of dampened interest" for a while.
But now the games are doing quite well, rules and regs notwithstanding. "We know the games do increase traffic," says Herrick, "by the tickets that move out. It can average a 37.5 perceent increase in traffic."
Of course, some of that has to include one-time staid, once-a-week shoppers who are now stricken with bingo madness and going to the store again and again and again.
The current Safeway-A&P bingo wars are going on in the Washington metropolitan area, most of Maryland, a sprinkling of stores at Delmarva peninsula resorts and in Pennsylvania.
Fred Kayden, whose Kayden Productions Inc. in New York runs the A&P bingo game, has been in the "traffic-building sales promotion" business for about 17 years. He does nothing now except bingo, "because it really is the most popular game in the country. You ask someone how to play bingo and more people can tell you, probably even than Monopoly."
The games run for 13 weeks, and both games will expire by the end of the month -- or after all the prizes are claimed, whichever happens first.
According to Ernie Moore, Safeway has as of Sept. 6, paid out $534,445 to winners. As of the end of August there had been 159 winners of the $1,000 bonanza. And the $100,000 grand prize winner will not be drawn until all prizes have been claimed.
A&P had no running figures, but their total giveaway, at $400,000, is less than half the Safeway Bingosaurus.
Does anybody have 950 or 983 in the A&P game?
"Remember CASH?" asks Fred Kayden. "That was the first game of the genre. It was a piece of paper which, when washed off, showed one of the four letters in CASH. In the first day or so everybody got C, A and H. And then the whole world, it seems, was looking for the S."
Rumor had it that even Mamie Eisenhower was looking for an S.
The Safeway on MacArthur Boulevard had two $1,000 winners recently. One was a policewoman, a friendly checker volunteered. The other "a regular customer who lives right across the street," is a nurse.
As a general rule, consumer groups disapprove of such promotional gimmickry as bingo. They believe that stores should cut prices rather than spend money on prizes, and attract customers because of good products and good value -- not for the one in umpteen-thousandth chance of winning a quick buck.
On the other hand, a good gamble is sometimes more fun than fresh fish. Although fresh fish is nice, too. And as rare as ticket number 408.
Want to get depressed? Turn over your card -- any card, A&P or Safeway, and look at the odds.
Listen, whoever you are, if you'll give me back my bingo numbers, well, I'll glady split my winnings . . . honest.