- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - Susan Lovejoy once won the $700 jackpot playing bingo at Colts Community Center in Dubuque. Her eyes still light up when she recalls that night.

But it’s not the allure of winning that keeps the Dubuque resident coming back.

“I have lost almost all of my family over the years,” Lovejoy said. “Since I’ve started coming here, all of these people have treated me so nice. They have become my new family.”

Lovejoy played her first bingo game at the Colts hall about 15 years ago. She now attends bingo three nights each week, usually arriving early and always staying until the end of the final game.

Stories like hers are not rare in the tri-state area.

The Telegraph Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1hxFdh7 ) there are hundreds of people like Lovejoy - dedicated regulars who have spent decades playing bingo and forming tight, familial bonds with the other die-hard players.

Dubuque long has been considered the focal point of the region’s bingo obsession, attracting players from Wisconsin, Illinois and occasionally even Minnesota.

These days, however, Dubuque’s bingo culture is facing a future fraught with uncertainty.

Competition from local casinos, coupled with the Iowa law that prohibits smoking in bingo halls, have led to a sizable drop in attendance, local officials said. Unfavorable taxation policies only have added to the troubles.

Don Gagne, executive director of Tri-State Independent Blind Society, has presided over one of Dubuque’s largest bingo halls for more than four decades. He cannot recall another time when things looked this bleak.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the bingos in this area were doing great. Now, it’s almost getting to where you can’t make any money,” Gagne said.

Times are so tough that Gagne is contemplating selling the organization’s current building at 3333 Asbury Road - a space Tri-State Blind has occupied since 1988_- and moving to a smaller location.

Despite the current challenges, Gagne said there are no immediate plans to stop hosting bingo.

“We’re still going to operate and keep doing what we can, but I don’t know how long we’re going to be able to do that,” he said.


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