Rosalie Edelstein’s passion for bingo began 20 years ago when she first strolled into a northwest-side bingo hall on a whim. “When I walked in I had $5, and I think I walked out with over 40. And I thought, “Boy, that’s a lot of fun for $5.”‘

Back in those days, before she had two jobs–she now works for the Illinois Department of Mental Health and does telephone surveys on the side–she played bingo as much as she could. Now she goes about twice a week, once to a local hall and once on the weekend to Indiana or Milwaukee, where they have higher-stakes games. “In fact, whenever I get a day off I can be found in a bingo hall,” she says, and laughs. “And guess where I’m going tonight?”

She likes the game so much that she wrote Rosalie’s Bingo Directory: Chicago, a list of regular games within the metro area and regional ones you can get to on the bingo bus, as well as illustrations that lay out the game for new players. “I think there’s over 400 games listed in the book. I haven’t been to every one of them yet, but I’m working on it.” She says lots of senior citizens go to the local games, though several halls have midnight games on Friday or Saturday that are attended mainly by young people.

“As a recreational form of gambling it can be a lot of fun. Actually I don’t spend a lot of money when I go. Like where I’m going tonight, where they’re giving away $2,250, it’s going to cost me all of $9 for a whole evening’s worth of entertainment. Seven dollars is going to buy me what’s called a book, which is your basic package of about 12 or 15 cards, which allow you to play mostly every game–there’s one for a $500 “cover-all’ game in there. And then I just have to spend $2 for a special card for another $500 game–and that’s it. There have been times when I’ve been so broke that I just bought a $3 book of cards. You can still win $500 on it.”

The stakes can be very different from game to game, depending on where you play. Most local games take place in churches and synagogues, which fall under county and state laws. The games have to be run by nonprofit institutions, “so that the money people lose really goes to support a lot of good causes. And the maximum any bingo hall can give away is $2,250. This means most games for a single winner are worth $75 or $80.”

To find higher-stakes games you have to go to American Legion or VFW posts in Indiana, where most games pay single winners $200 to $250. The highest-stakes games are played on reservations and tribal land, where they’re not subject to U.S. law. “These are the killer games. The nearest example for our area is Potawatami Bingo in downtown Milwaukee, where there’s a little spot of tribal land that belongs to the Potawatami Indians. And I have been there when people have won upwards of 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars. It’s unbelievable.”

Edelstein, a Rhode Island native who moved here 30 years ago, got into publishing in her mid-50s. “I thought, Well, I’m a gambler. I’m going to start my own small publishing company.” She named it Boo Boo Press, after her cat, and the directory was her second project. “I thought I could knock it out in two months. No, no, no!” It ended up taking her nine months. Her first project was Rosie’s Guide to Riverboat Gambling, which is due out this summer. “The thing that’s so ironic is I’m closer to retirement age than anything else, and here I’m undertaking something that’s probably going to turn out to be a whole new career for me.”

Rosalie’s Bingo Directory: Chicago is available only through the mail, for $6.95 plus $2 shipping and handling. Write Boo Boo Press, 6145 N. Sheridan, Chicago 60660, or call 262-4227. “And of course buying it from me at a bingo hall saves you two bucks shipping and handling,” she says, laughing. “I always carry at least six copies of the book on my person.”

–Tom Terranova

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.