For most bingo players, a trip to the bingo hall requires packing in advance for the excursion. Daubers (bingo card markers), snacks, cash and, for many, good luck charms must be in tow before settling in for the multiple-hour experience.
Troll dolls and rabbits' feet are the most common luck-bringing items, but bingo players find inspiration and hopefulness in a vast variety of baubles. Some bingo buffs bring a Beanie Baby or two; others set up elaborate shrines.
When Victoria Daniels worked at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino as a security officer, she often received calls from bingo players who accidentally left behind a lucky charm and wanted to retrieve it.
"A lot of it was important: family photos, heirlooms, (cremation) ashes," says Daniels, who now works in Potawatomi’s PR department and also plays bingo at her church regularly.
For many bingo players, the superstitions go beyond charms. Where they sit, which dauber they use for games and who they buy "paper" (bingo "cards") from is also important and, in their minds, could affect their winnings – or lack thereof.
"My mom always says twins are lucky, so when I played bingo, I always brought photos of my twin brothers," says Daniels. "But pregnant women are the most lucky. I once won bingo three times in one night when I was pregnant."
The investment in bingo is fairly low, depending on whether a participant chooses to play on paper or an electronic screen. (Roughly $5 to $15 per game.) But bingo wins can result in big earnings. Daily Jackpots reach $20,000 or more.
Chris Dean has regularly traveled to the casino from Racine since 1991 when the facility opened. She has brought the same stuffed dog every time. Dean says she hasn't named the floppy tan dog, but he does, she says, bring her good luck.
"I won $5,000 once," says Dean.
Michael Crumwell also brings the same charm every time he plays bingo: a dollar-bill shaped keychain from Las Vegas that was a gift from his father. Recently, he won $1,000.
"Now I take it with me everywhere," says Crumwell. "It’s definitely good luck."
For bingo players "good luck" has a variety of meanings and interpretations. Sometimes the players truly believe the item or items contain positive energy that will attract winnings; other players have a "it can’t hurt, so why not bring it" mentality.
And for at least one bingo player, who sets up a very elaborate scene before each game, it has nothing to do with luck at all.
"I don’t believe in luck," says Kern Bryan Fergus. "I’m a man of faith."
Fergus’ faith is reflected in the items that surround him while he plays bingo: cards of the Virgin Mary and various saints, a Bible, a special sock that represents "all the babies who never had the chance to be born."
"These are not superstitions, they are reminders of my faith," he says.
But Fergus has non-religious items surrounding him as well, including a stuffed rabbit that reminds him of this deceased pet named "Powder," a toy dragon with a cape that always gets bestowed with sunglasses during the 7th bingo game and a stuffed Wienermobile.
"I saw (the Wienermobile) in the ‘60s when I was a kid living in West Allis," he says. "It was parked in front of a store called Vans on Greenfield and I always wanted to find a replica of it and then I found this at 7 Mile Fair many years later."
Although very particular about the arrangement of his items, Fergus is also light hearted about his intricate set up – and self aware."I know people think I’m nuts, that I have a few screws loose," he says. "And you might be wondering why I have to bring all of these dumb things with me to bingo? Mostly it’s because I need things around me. I need some atmosphere."
Fergus is also particular about what color dauber he uses for certain numbers. For example, the green dauber is used to mark the number 19 because green represents spring and the number represents March 19 which is a feasting day for the Virgin Mary. Bright blue is used for 22 and 25 because blue represents winter and these numbers represent important December dates for Mary.
And although he doesn’t believe in luck, Fergus has done a fair share of winning. Since 2005, he’s won 15 games in the Potawatomi bingo hall.
"I’m not working right now, I’m taking care of my mom, and so I appreciate the winnings," he says.
Michele Bergemann has played bingo for 24 years and she recently started bringing her son’s and husband’s favorite My Pretty Pony dolls. She has them carefully arranged in a line next to her daubers.
So do the ponies bring her luck? "Sometimes, but hopefully they will today," says Bergemann. "It’s my birthday."
For Andrea Kay – who won $32,000 from a bingo game – the luck comes from a few Care Bear plush toys. Sometimes she brings "special" bears if it’s a holiday or her birthday. For Linda Hale, a collection of about 50 rocks and stones hold the luck. For Penny Bergner, a stuffed seal and "B 13" trinket bring abundance.
Children and grandchildren are a reoccurring theme in lucky charm trinkets. Connie Nelson brings a photo of her granddaughter, Ava, to every bingo game. "She brings me good luck all the time," says Nelson.
"My grandson gave me these three pigs and they are usually very lucky for me," says a bingo player who wished to remain anonymous.
Renee LaViolette’s trinkets, including a troll doll, came from her daughter. "I wouldn’t be able to play without them," she says. "They are my luck."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.