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July 2009

CHECKING out the competition is one thing, but staff from Gala's bingo club in St Ann's have been spotted numerous times at Mecca Beeston. And before they even consider a denial, we know who you are. Or least my missus does.
Up until two months ago, she and the mother-in-law – is bingo hereditary? – were regulars at Gala St Ann's.
They've not been back since checking out Mecca's new £5m club.
And not for the extras – the lounge bar/restaurant, the big screen films or the After Dark Bingo sessions, with their nightclub vibe. Nope, it's simply for the basic experience of playing the game.
The club has the look of a casino. Not so much the absence of windows or clocks, but the decor – deep reds, pinks and purples, plus dimming lights that make one forget it's a former cash and carry on Queens Road, in Beeston.
On the right as you walk through to the main room are banks of gaming machines, and the lounge, where players can make as much noise as they like. It looks more like a city centre bar. The vibe is in contrast to the serious bingo in the large main room, where any mid-game chatter results in a "shurrup" from other players.
While the dobbing (or dabbing) of paper books is still available for the old school player, Mecca Beeston has made the game even easier with touch screen e-bingo units.
It's bingo for idiots. There's never been any skill involved – though dobbing the numbers off can be frantic for bingo virgins – but now it's even easier.
There's no need to follow the numbers called, as simply pressing anywhere on the screen checks them off. When one number is needed for a win it'll tell you. And should you get it, the screen flashes up "Winner!"
That said, you still need to shout to claim – "house" is a rarity, Notts folk preferring "ere yar" or "yurrrrrp".
Defections from other clubs have also been happening because of the bigger prizes, I'm reliably informed.
"There are five chances to win £1,000 on a Sunday night – are you coming?" It's the current Mrs Wilson.
How much you can win, or nearly won – "I only wanted one for..." is the bingo-goer's mantra – is of little concern if you don't.
Anyway, sold on the promise of clean and modern toilets, touch screen books and a free go at winning a Ford Ka, I give it a try.
And I win.
It's a Saturday afternoon and getting a seat is easy. Revisits on weekend evenings are a different story.
Chief caller is Winston, a Yorkshire lad who enjoys a double entendre whenever he's not calling out the numbers.
He's wandering between tables with a headset – pulling coloured balls from a static bingo machine is so last century.
Experienced players don't even listen, checking off the numbers as they're displayed on each table. They appear earlier than his call, you see. As a result, premature winning shouts are frequent.
Sometimes the same people win. They may be luckier than everyone else. Chances are they're playing more books. The standard is six for £15 but for £42 you can play 24.
It's not a flat fee. The Earlies and Lates bookend the Main Session and for hardcore players that means three hours of bingo. Then, in between games, there's Cashline bingo, played at the table with yellow counters while the rest of us are taking a toilet or cigarette break.
Resist that extra expense and you can fill in the time by playing with your e-bingo book – changing the mark you dob/dab the numbers off with from black squares to union jacks, an alien, butterfly or pint of beer.
Or read the paper which they sell along with a reasonably healthy menu – I'd recommend the chicken wrap.
It tasted even better when I was handed the green envelope stuffed with tenners. A full house, £100 win.
Then the missus scored with £57 on the Cashline (she still calls it "clicky bingo", for no apparent reason.
The afternoon was rounded off with yet another call – £25 for one line. Shame that I had to share that with two others.
I walked out of there, blinking in the light of a Saturday afternoon, a ton better off than I had been three hours earlier.
In Nottingham's bingo wars, Mecca is winning the latest battle.

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