A woman who lost her teenage son in a tragic accident says bingo helped her to socialise again.
Mary Williams from Tallaght, Dublin, who plays bingo regularly at the Star in Crumlin, joined other players outside Leinster House to protest against proposed gambling legislation.
They are concerned that the Gamings and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill which will limit the prize payout to 50% of the takings will force many bingo halls to close.
Ms Williams said her husband, John, suggested that she play bingo as a way of getting out of the house and meeting people.
“I lost my son in a tragic accident 10 years ago. He was only 17 years old. I stayed in the house after he died. I just let myself go,” she said.
Ms Williams, who has two daughters, did not want to face people after her son died and became depressed.
“Everything went downhill after my son died but I am no longer taking anti-depressants now. I now look forward to playing bingo two or three times a week. When I started going to the bingo hall the people there were so friendly and welcoming and I fitted right in. Now I am worried that it might close.”
More than a 100 bingo players, mostly women, sat down outside Leinster House for a special “bingo Dáil”.
Both Independent TD, Michael Healy-Rae and leader of the Social Democrats Roisín Shortall showed their support by calling out a few lines of Bingo.
After one of the players called “check” Mr Healy Rae declared that the prize for the winner was a copy of his book. “And the second prize is two copies of his book,” Ms Shortall quickly added.
Mr Healy-Rae said he has fond childhood memories of his mother taking him to bingo in Kerry and likes playing bingo when he can. “I think that the minister will have to amend this legislation that will protect the prize money. To go halving the prize money is a ridiculous, stupid decision that benefits nobody and hurts an awful lot of people,” he said.
Ms Shortall believes the proposed legislation has “unintended consequences” and should be corrected. “I do accept that we do have issues around gambling but bingo is pretty innocent and I think we should leave things as they are,” she said.
Labour TD Joan Burton, handed in the petition with around 1,000 names on it because no one from Fine Gael came out to take it. She said she thinks the Government is “really foolish” to potentially abolish a well-enjoyed pastime that does not harm anybody.
Minister of State, David Stanton, said he does not accept that the legislative changes that he described as “modest” would force bingo halls to close.
“I am proposing that a maximum of 25% of proceeds can go to bingo operators while a minimum of 25% would go to charity and 50% would go to prize-winners,” he said.
“Given its social appeal, people do not play bingo based solely on the prize level. If they did they would likely gamble elsewhere.”