The lounge-style seating is your first clue that this isn’t your grandmother’s bingo hall. Couches in a bingo hall? But once you’re inside, the clues that you’re in the most unique bingo hall you’ve ever stepped inside come at you in waves.
Black-light Bingo with glow-in-the-dark paper? Well yeah, Bingo After Dark is popular elsewhere around Southern California. But where did the burlesque dancers come from? And who thought of having staff members dressed up as flappers for Roaring ‘20s Night? Did someone mention Disco Night? Or Country Night, complete with lassoed chairs?
Wait a minute… was that a TWERKING CONTEST that broke out during one session?
No, Pechanga Bingo is not your grandmother’s bingo hall. But if your grandmother came in and wanted to play, Samantha Archer and her staff of 55 would make it a comfortable and memorable experience for her.
A 20-year veteran of the gaming industry, who has worked all over the casino landscape, Archer is the bingo manager at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula and the chief architect tasked with making bingo accessible to your grandmother – and fun for your granddaughter or grandson.
Archer has twerked, burlesqued, discoed and roared Pechanga Bingo into an enviable status as one of California’s most popular bingo parlors. In July, Pechanga Bingo will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a $100,000 extravaganza that features $10,000 consolation awards, $2,500 regular games and $10,000 special games, along with door-prize drawings for 40 prizes that include two 42-inch smart TVs, two iPad minis, two Apple Watches and 30 $100 gift cards.
Pechanga Bingo’s anniversary is so popular – it regularly sells out — that the resort casino sells tickets on Ticketmaster.
“The five-year anniversary is really special to most of us because a handful of us have been here since the beginning and we were involved in putting this together, from setting up the room to building the shelving units in the inventory room – we did it all,” Archer said. “So for that group, coming in on five years is pretty exciting. Most of us feel like we’re invested in the department. We were there from the beginning, we built it up and we want to make it fun for everybody.”
That was the task Archer and her minimal bingo experience took upon herself when she moved over from a senior instructor position in Pechanga’s slots department in March 2013 to restart a bingo program that had previously withered and disappeared.
Given free rein to take the converted nightclub on the second floor atop Pechanga’s 200,000-square foot main casino and make it accessible and fun to Baby Boomers, Millennials – and everyone in between – Archer set out to create a complete bingo experience for Pechanga’s bingo players, many of whom are regulars.
Some of this came naturally: club-card buy-ins, the 700-seat, lounge-style, upscale surroundings – complete with full bar – three sessions a day Sunday through Friday and four sessions on Saturday. But Archer soon realized that with her local clientele, not even Pechanga’s trademark, top-shelf customer service is enough.
“That’s our biggest challenge. You have to do things to draw in a younger crowd without closing the door on your main bingo player who has been playing bingo for 20 or 30 years and doesn’t necessarily like change,” Archer said. “How can I get someone who has never played before, who is looking at their iPhone and constantly stimulated to come in and play a game that is a little slower, that takes some concentration and that you have to do a little bit of work.
“If you have never played before, believe it or not, bingo can cause you quite a bit of anxiety. That’s why we do the electronic (tickets), we do the music videos, the lounge-style seating. All of that is geared toward bringing in younger crowds.”
So Archer and her staff created the different theme nights and promoted them to the point where players were dressing up as well. She created a VIP/Party Room that saw use for everything from retirement parties to 21st birthday parties and bachelorette parties. Music videos are a constant, if unobtrusive, companion to sessions.
At the same time, Archer didn’t lose the plot. She created other bingo programs and three-way progressive games to keep the interest of her regulars. Later this summer, Pechanga Bingo will introduce High-Stakes Bingo that will allow players to purchase larger packages that come with larger jackpots.
“If it’s out there and it could work, we’re willing to try it,” she said.
The message is clear. Yes, this is not your grandmother’s bingo hall. And no, Pechanga Bingo isn’t going anywhere.
“Hopefully, this anniversary proves to all our guests we’re not going anywhere, because that was a question when we first opened,” Archer said. “It took us a while to get some of our customers to trust us to come back, because they didn’t want to come here and they didn’t want to like it and then for one reason or another, not be here anymore.
“This finally proves we’re here to stay. It shows that Pechanga is serious when it comes to the things we do. We’re in this game to strive to be the best.”