May
16

Rome;s Real Revenue

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A man was strolling down the sidewalk and suddenly had a heart attack, falling to the ground.  A fella came up to him and asked what was wrong.  The man said, “I’m dying and I need a priest to give me the last rites.”  The fella wasn’t aware of any parish in the area, but thought he maybe could help in this time of great need.  He explained to the man that he was not a particularly spiritual person, but did live next to a Catholic church and could repeat what he heard all the time coming out of the church’s window.  The dying man said okay, so the fella leaned over him and began, “Under the B, 6. Under the I, 13, Under the N…!”

It was a December evening in 1929 when a very tired New York toy salesman, Edwin S. Lowe, decided to drive south to Jacksonville, Georgia, that he might get an early start for his next day’s appointments.  The year before, with two employees and $1,000 in capital, Lowe had set up his own toy company.  But soon after, the stock market crashed and the outlook for his budding firm looked bleak indeed.  A few miles from the town, Lowe came upon a bend in the road and was greeted by the bright lights of a country carnival.  Since he was ahead of schedule, he decided to park his car and get out to take a look.  All the carnival booths were closed, except one, which was packed with people.  Lowe stood on tiptoes and peered over the shoulders of the participants.  The action centered on a horseshoe-shaped table covered with numbered cards and beans.  The game being played was called Beano.

The pitchman, or caller, pulled small numbered wooden disks from an old cigar box and, at the same time, called the number aloud.  The players responded by eagerly checking their card to see if they had the number called;  if so, they’d place a bean on the number.  This sequence continued until someone filled a line of numbers on their card – either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.  This feat was then marked by the shout of “Beano!”  The winner received a modest prize, a small Kewpie doll (large head, big eyes, chubby cheeks, and a curl on top of its head).   Ed Lowe tried to play Beano that night, but, he recalls, “I couldn’t get a seat.  However, while I was waiting around, I noticed that the players were practically addicted to the game.  The pitchman wanted to close up, but every time he said, ‘This is the last game,’ no one moved.  When he finally closed at 3:00 a.m., he had to chase them out.”  After locking up, the pitchman told Lowe that he had run across the game while traveling with a carnival in Europe the previous year.  His immediate thought was that it would make a great tent game in America and it was turning out to be so – a real crowd-pleaser and money-maker.  Returning to his home in New York, Lowe bought a bag of dried beans, a rubber numbering stamp and some cardboard.  Friends were invited to his apartment and Ed Lowe assumed the pitchman’s duties.  Soon these friends were playing Beano with the same tension and excitement as he had seen at the carnival.  During one session, Lowe noticed one of his players close to winning.  She got more excited as each bean was added to her card.  Finally there was one number left, and it was called.  The woman jumped up, became tongue-tied, and instead of shouting “Beano,” stuttered “B-B-Bingo!”  “I cannot describe the strange sense of elation which that girl’s cry brought to me,” Lowe said.  “All I could think of was that I was going to come out with this game, and it was going to be called Bingo!”
A problem though immediately developed after Bingo hit the market, when it was discovered that – for a large number of players competing at the same time – each game was producing half a dozen winners or more.  Lowe soon realized the solution was to come up with many more number combinations.  To accomplish this, he sought out the services of an elderly mathematics professor at Columbia University, one Carl Leffler.  Lowe’s request was that the good professor devise 6,000 new Bingo cards with non-repeating number groups.  The mathematician agreed to a fee that remunerated him on a per-card basis.  As the math whiz worked, each card became increasingly difficult (this was long before the day of computers).  Lowe grew impatient, and towards the end of the process, the price per card rose to $100 each ($1,375 in today’s dollars).  Finally the E.S. Lowe Company had its 6,000 different cards, but at the expense of the professor’s sanity (his family said the strain put him in a mental asylum).  But in just five short years since Ed Lowe came upon that carnival game, 10,000 Bingo games a week were now being played – with his company going from two employees to one thousand and sixty-four printing presses spuing out bingo cards twenty-four hours a day.

Today, no one has taken more advantage of Bingo than Catholicism.  This game of chance is as common in parishes as are statues of Mary.  And not just Bingo, but cards, dice, raffles, lotteries, etc.  (I well remember the only time my parents ever attended any church was when they held a “casino night” at St. Mary’s.)  And the reason for all of this?  It’s because the average weekly giving for a family that attends mass is $10 (so they have to get the money from some other source).  To put it another way, if we were the same here, our total weekly offerings would be around $330.  But financially, we get along just fine through tithing – because God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision.