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Popular bingo center in Citrus Heights shifts outdoors during COVID-19

Players at the Grand Oaks Bingo Center assemble before an outdoor Friday-night game, amid smoke and COVID-19 social distancing requirements.

By Mike Hazlip–
Grand Oaks Bingo Center has resumed hosting games during the coronavirus pandemic, with modified operations bringing the game outdoors to the center’s expansive parking lot on Auburn Boulevard.

Four different nonprofit organizations use the Bingo Center for fundraising events throughout the week, including the Optimist Club, Society for the Blind, Placer Food Bank and the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO).

Friday night was CASTO’s turn at the wheel, where bingo manager for the night, Jeremy Barlow, said outdoor game nights resumed at the center last month.

Players were allowed to remain in their vehicles, or sit in groups at folding tables outside. Numbers were called out over a public address speaker system, and also broadcast over an FM frequency so players in their vehicles could tune into the signal.

Those in their vehicles were instructed to honk their horn for a number of seconds and turn on their flashers in lieu of calling out “bingo.”

Barlow said the event was shut down for about three months this year before opening up and then closing down again in compliance with California’s changing guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

CASTO organizers discussed ways to continue the bingo nights while keeping players and volunteers safe. Eventually they decided to move outside.

“CASTO put forward a lot of money to get equipment, to get the things that are necessary to keep our volunteers safe, to make it safe for the customers that are coming and just to be able to make it work,” Barlow said.

The all-volunteer school bus organization has had a positive response to the outdoor gaming, according to Barlow. “Everybody’s tired of being in their house,” he said.

Organizers said Friday night’s attendance was low, but noted poor air quality as a likely factor in keeping some folks away from the outdoor games.

While outdoor operations are working for now, Barlow said he is concerned what will happen if the prohibition on indoor operations lasts into the winter months. “Hopefully we don’t have to do it too much longer,” he said.

Although he couldn’t cite specific numbers, Barlow said the nonprofit gets about 30% of the revenue generated by the gaming nights. He said the money goes directly to public school students, teachers, and school bus drivers.

For CASTO however, the benefit that comes from resuming bingo nights goes beyond an additional source of funding.

“The more people we can get out to help, the more kids we can help, and parents,” Barlow said. “Ultimately we’re helping the kids, but it’s helping a lot of parents as well.”

He said learning at home has brought new challenges for many families, and low-income students have been particularly hard hit. CASTO uses a portion of the money from the bingo nights to help distribute ear buds to students in an effort to reduce distractions for students learning at home.

Another portion of the funds goes toward training and equipping school bus drivers to transport special needs students. Barlow said these students still need transportation even though most schools are closed. CASTO also hosts workshops and conferences to improve public school transportation.

Grand Oaks Bingo Center is located in the Grand Oaks Shopping Center at 7919 Auburn Blvd., across from Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes. More information about the center can be found at

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