SOUTH PORTLAND — For the last 25 years, the South Portland Music Boosters have held a monopoly on Saturday night bingo.
But that will change next year when Saturday night bingo will be taken over by the Maine Boosters Association, a group founded three years ago by Gary Lamson, whose family owns the bingo hall at 120 John Roberts Road.
Despite rumors circulating throughout the hall and community at large, Booster President Mike Fletcher said both the booster group and the kindergarten- through 12th-grade music program that relies on the boosters for funding will not be significantly impacted by the change.
“There were a lot of rumors going around,” Fletcher said. “(But) we’re very happy with the arrangement.”
Booster Vice President Melissa Lundgren said the group has built a loyal following of bingo players over the last 25 years, which she attributes to the volunteers.
“We do know our customers are very loyal to us,” Lundgren said. “Customers have always said they really liked our night. They say we run it professionally and we’re warm and cuddly.”
Fletcher said that arrangement will not change, since the music boosters will still provide volunteer staff for the Saturday night bingo.
“They’ll still have my smiling face,” he joked.
In recent years, customer loyalty has translated into a six-figure income for the music boosters, nearly all of which came from Saturday night bingo games.
In addition to supporting K-12 music and the high school marching band, one of the state’s premier bands, the boosters group has also made donations in support of the Boys & Girls Club and other sports boosters for lacrosse, tennis and basketball.
Last year, a $50,000 donation by the music boosters allowed the high school to purchase a new baby grand piano for the South Portland Auditorium.
Lamson said he founded the Maine Boosters Association three years ago with the intent to take over all five nights of bingo at the hall. He said next year will be first in which the group can legally be licensed for bingo, since it will have been a state-recognized nonprofit for the previous two years.
“We’ve tried to get one group to run all the nights so it runs consistent and in a more professional manner,” Lamson said. “Booster groups change from year to year so it never runs really super smooth.”
Previously, it would be up to the nonprofit running the bingo night to
find and train volunteers — whether from high school booster
groups from nearby communities or the local Lions Club. The group that
hosted the night would keep the proceeds for its programs.
Now, bingo proceeds will be divided among the regional booster groups and other nonprofits according to how many volunteers participate, how many students or people the nonprofit serves and what the groups need to meet their operating budgets.
While the music boosters found their night lucrative, Fletcher said, others were barely breaking even.
“The purpose was to balance out the money,” he said. “We will be getting a little less, but the cut we’re taking won’t really affect us.”
Lamson said he would like to expand the number of bingo beneficiaries. His goal is to offer two $10,000 scholarships for students planning to study oceanic sciences or a related field.
Although the new arrangement was expected to take effect Jan. 1, Fletcher said Lamson will allow the boosters to operate Saturday night bingo through January, so the group can raise the $60,000 needed to send 85 band members to Florida in February to perform at Disney World.
Lamson said he hopes that a more professionally run event will allow the facility to compete with Foxwoods and possibly a racino, if one ever comes to the area.
“We want to be a viable option well into the future,” Lamson said.
Pete Everest calls bingo last Saturday on John Roberts Road for the South Portland Music Boosters. After 25 years, the group is losing its Saturday night game.
Kiara Lord of Portland uses several different colored daubers to mark her 36 bingo cards Saturday night at the South Portland Music Boosters bingo on John Roberts Road.