Her number’s being called: Longtime La Salette Shrine gamerunner eyes new Enfield bingo hall

Vicki Pellerin, of Enfield, checks over a card after bingo was called during the weekly game she runs at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. Pellerin has proposed opening a Bingo hall at the Shaker Valley Auto showroom in Enfield. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Vicki Pellerin, of Enfield, checks over a card after bingo was called during the weekly game she runs at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. Pellerin has proposed opening a Bingo hall at the Shaker Valley Auto showroom in Enfield. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Mary Davis, of Lebanon, throws out non-winning pull tickets while preparing for bingo at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. The games, costing between a quarter to $5 per ticket, and with guaranteed winners in each box, bring in more money than the actual bingo games. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mary Davis, of Lebanon, throws out non-winning pull tickets while preparing for bingo at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. The games, costing between a quarter to $5 per ticket, and with guaranteed winners in each box, bring in more money than the actual bingo games. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Bingo caller Roy Holland, of Enfield, sells Long Shot pull tickets to, from left, Sue Rocke, of Canaan, Sandy Benjamin, of Enfield, Deb Wilbur, of Plainfield, and Mary Jane Thibodeau, of West Lebanon, before the main bingo game at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. The grey hound themed game is played between bingo games and uses the bingo balls to draw numbers that match a winning card for a guaranteed payout. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Bingo caller Roy Holland, of Enfield, sells Long Shot pull tickets to, from left, Sue Rocke, of Canaan, Sandy Benjamin, of Enfield, Deb Wilbur, of Plainfield, and Mary Jane Thibodeau, of West Lebanon, before the main bingo game at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. The grey hound themed game is played between bingo games and uses the bingo balls to draw numbers that match a winning card for a guaranteed payout. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Sandy Benjamin, of Enfield, keeps up a commentary while marking off numbers called during a pull ticket game during the weekly Bingo night at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Sandy Benjamin, of Enfield, keeps up a commentary while marking off numbers called during a pull ticket game during the weekly Bingo night at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Vicki Pellerin, of Enfield, right, gets a hug from Tammie Decato Hughes, of Enfield, during the weekly Bingo night at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Vicki Pellerin, of Enfield, right, gets a hug from Tammie Decato Hughes, of Enfield, during the weekly Bingo night at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Bingo caller Roy Holland calls the numbers for a bingo game at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. The weekly game filled two floors of the building with 86 players. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Bingo caller Roy Holland calls the numbers for a bingo game at the LaSalette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. The weekly game filled two floors of the building with 86 players. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-04-2023 8:02 PM

ENFIELD — When Vicki Pellerin turned 18 and could finally join generations of her family for a weekly bingo night at La Salette Shrine, she considered it a rite of family.

“We would have two whole tables of just my relatives,” Pellerin recalled in a phone interview. “It was a nice family function that you could spend 20 bucks and it was a night out.”

Now 68, Pellerin for the past few years has been in charge of those Tuesday night games at La Salette. If all goes according to plan — including gaining approval from Enfield’s Planning Board — she will open her own bingo hall later this year across the lake on Route 4 in what had been the showroom of Shaker Valley Auto.

Pellerin plans to hold games four or five nights a week, with a different nonprofit organization benefiting each night. So far, the American Legion Guyer-Carignan Post 22 in Lebanon, the legion’s auxiliary and Enfield emergency services are signed up for nights. The Enfield Shaker Museum will take La Salette’s Tuesday night slot, and Friends of Mascoma has expressed interest in another night, Pellerin said. She will no longer host bingo games at La Salette after the property transfers to the Shaker Museum at the end of September.

Bingo and the Lucky 7 Pull-Tab tickets that often accompany it at events are highly regulated under New Hampshire state law. Unlike the state’s “charitable” casinos, more of the revenue stays with the nonprofit operators.

“With bingo, a charitable organization retains 100% of gaming revenue after paying prizes and related expenses are paid,” Maura McCann, of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, wrote in an email.

Charitable casinos that are operated by licensed gaming entities, such as the one recently approved for Miracle Mile in Lebanon, must share 35% of gross revenue with a charitable organization and keep what’s left.

Revenue is generated through selling bingo cards, Lucky 7 tickets and raffle tickets. Organizers purchase those items in bulk to sell. Volunteers for the nonprofits can receive up to $50 to help cover mileage and babysitting, along with other expenses that they need to work the event. Bingo games must pay taxes to the state.

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They also can choose to pay a registered bingo consultant, such as Pellerin, who also hosts weekly games at Funspot in Laconia, to run the games.

“The amount a consultant is paid is based on the agreement each consultant has with a charity,” McCann wrote. “The Lottery Commission does not set any limitations on these agreements.”

While she is running the weekly games, Pellerin manages teams of volunteers and takes care of card, ticket and food inventory. As part the state requirement, she also maintains extensive bookkeeping.

“There is an awful lot to it,” Pellerin said during a phone interview.

While the state does not take a portion of bingo payouts — save 7% of the total amount collected from any winner-take-all games and 7% of the total amount collected from “carry-over cover-all” games — it does tax each box of pull tab-tickets sold.

“They make out, or they wouldn’t be doing it,” Pellerin said.

As at La Salette, Pellerin’s bingo hall on Route 4 would not allow alcohol — she said she does not want to deal with additional regulations or have to watch out for people who may be overindulging. She does intend to offer a limited menu of snacks, and there are also plans for electronic bingo machines in addition to the traditional paper boards.

Pellerin also plans to hire a handful of part-time employees to help run the games.

“I can’t ask them to volunteer four or five nights a week for nothing,” she said.

The new location is expected to be more accessible for the scores of players who show up each week. At La Salette, there is not enough room for everyone in the first-floor cafeteria space, so others must sit upstairs. Electronic bingo boards — as well as monitors that display bingo balls as they’re called — are on both floors. Volunteers communicate using microphones that can sometimes be prone to unpleasant-sounding feedback. And don’t get Pellerin started on the steep stairs. When asked how many times she went up and down them each Thursday, she replied, “Too many.”

Around 75 to 80 people play at La Salette each week. Pellerin begins setting up around 3:30 p.m. before doors open at 4, and games start at 6:30 p.m. Play finishes up around 9.

La Salette, which announced this summer that it will close at the end of September, receives roughly $5,000 a month in proceeds from the weekly game nights, said the Rev. John Sullivan, director of the shrine.

“It’s a big help to the Shrine,” Sullivan said while stopping by the hall Tuesday night. “Vicki is great. She really takes care of all the organizing.”

The majority of the revenue is made through pull-tab tickets rather than the bingo. In some of the games, pull-tab jackpots are carried over week to week until someone wins it.

“We don’t make very much money, if any, on bingo (alone),” Pellerin said.

Although many people play Lucky 7s, they are not required to. The minimum buy-in for bingo cards is $20 for a dozen, which come in color-coded sheets and can last the participant the whole night. It costs $25 to play 18, 24 or 36 cards — the true limit is how much you want to multitask.

The winnings vary: At one point Tuesday night, six people had bingo at the same time and had to split $100 evenly. Whenever Pellerin makes a payout, she carefully counts out the cash in front of the winner.

Pellerin got her start running bingo games after her son, John Pellerin, asked her to host fundraisers for the Enfield Fire Department. She had retired after 30 years with the Lebanon post offices and thought it sounded like fun.

“I’m a numbers person,” Pellerin said Tuesday.

From 2016 to 2020, she ran weekly games at the Enfield Community Building and also provided $5 homemade dinners. While bingo games have always had a social element to them, her experience running games at the community building really cemented the importance of those connections.

“We became a whole family,” Pellerin said during a phone interview. That carried over to La Salette. “When somebody doesn’t show up at bingo, they know to call me. If they don’t call me, we’re calling and seeing what’s up.”

When players arrive at La Salette, Pellerin greets them by name. If she doesn’t know them already, she makes a point to do so. In some ways, the weekly gatherings also serve as an informal support network: They’re a good way to find out who might need a ride to a medical appointment or a little extra help with yard work. People tend to sit with the same people week after week, creating smaller communities within a larger one. The majority of players tend to be women and range in age from their 30s through their 90s.

Pellerin’s 89-year-old mother — who used to run bingo games when La Salette held an annual summer fair — is a frequent attendee.

Yes, the ability to win is a draw — “Who doesn’t like to win money?” one patron said — but it is the community that keeps them coming back.

“I need the social interaction,” said Deb Wilbur, of Plainfield. She works at a daycare where children range in age from 10 weeks to 6 years old.

Wilbur, 58, plays 24 cards at a time and spends around $80 a night. “Then I’m done,” she said. Like other players, she marks her cards with a bingo dauber, a cylinder filled with brightly colored ink. When the games start, Wilbur and others quickly scan their boards, a process that requires quite a bit of concentration.

“I feel like it mentally keeps me sharper,” she said. “I go home, and I can’t shut down for a little while.”

Darlene Austin, of Enfield, plays 18 cards each night and limits herself to spending $60 on pull-tab tickets. That gamble paid off Tuesday night when she won $500.

“I like being with people,” said Austin, 69, who is retired. “I like the games.”

Nancy Downs, of Lebanon, started volunteering when Pellerin started running games at the community building and followed her over to La Salette. After selling bingo boards in the opening hours, she takes off her volunteer badge and plays games herself.

“If I don’t have the cash, I don’t play,” said Downs, 79, who started playing with her mother when she turned 18.

Once the numbers start being called, the hall becomes largely subdued as attendees become focused on their boards.

“You hope you get lucky,” Downs said.

There are always a handful of groans when someone calls “bingo!” as others who were close realize they won’t be getting there first.

Pellerin realizes — and said her son has pointed out — that she’s ramping up her workload at an age when many people might be thinking about cutting back. Watching her Tuesday night, as she stopped to chat to patrons, occasionally making a joke or taking part in some gentle ribbing, Pellerin seemed to feed off the energy from the crowd, her apparent joy in her tasks setting the tone.

“I like a challenge,” Pellerin said. “I’m right up there in age and everybody keeps saying, ‘You’re retired.’ I said I know, but I like to do this and I like to make money for the nonprofit organizations.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.