Las Vegas Sun

March 26, 2019

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Mexican version of bingo attracts new faces to local casinos


Ricardo Torres-Cortez

La Bonita pitchman Victor Flores holds a sign for “El Arbol” (The Tree) during a game of lotería at Texas Station.

Click to enlarge photo

Alex Ponce smiles while playing Lotería. Across from him is his brother Marco.

Join a game

Combined bingo and lotería games are offered at 5 p.m. Saturdays at Texas Station and at 5 p.m. Sundays at Boulder Station.

The lingo

• La tabla: A lotería card printed with a randomly created 4-by-4 grid of pictures

• El gritón: The caller

• Lotería or buenas: What the winner shouts when he or she places four beans in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal row, or any other specified winning pattern

The cards

The lotería deck includes 54 cards, including:

• El diablito, the devil

• La dama, the lady

• El valiente, the brave man

• La muerte, death

• La bandera, the flag

• El bandolón, the mandolin

• La luna, the moon

• El corazón, the heart

• El camarón, the shrimp

• El soldado, the soldier

• El nopal, the prickly pear cactus

• La calavera, the skull

Las Vegans Alex and Marco Ponce have fond memories of lotería, a game their Mexican-born parents taught them and that the brothers grew up playing in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“My family used to always get upset with me because I’d call out the cards, and I’d laugh when I’d win,” said Alex, 29.

Marco, 26, shook his head and smiled at the recollection as the brothers sat in the Texas Station bingo room.

Though the Ponces are 1,600 miles from the small Mexican town of Huehuetlán el Chico where their parents grew up, the brothers recently participated again in their favorite pastime — this time as adults in a Las Vegas casino.

This month and next, Texas Station and Boulder Station are offering lotería for the first time in the casinos’ 22-year histories. Dictated in Spanish and repeated in English, the game was added to reach the casinos’ Hispanic and Spanish-speaking clients.

Texas Station and Boulder Station are two of Station Casinos’ most popular resorts among Spanish speakers. Company officials estimate nearly half of Texas Station’s customers are Hispanic.

“This comes from a need to serve our Latino community,” casino spokeswoman Rosana Romero said. “But regular bingo players have also been playing, so we’ve had a neat integration of cultures.”

Lotería is similar to bingo, except it uses pictures instead of numbers. A caller tells a riddle for each picture before showing it to players. Instead of bingo chips or dauber stamps, dried beans are placed on cards.

“Every card has a story, a tradition to it,” explained Victor Flores, a caller at Texas Station. “That’s one of the main differences.”

The cards, which include a clown, a large spider and a drunk man, embrace traditional Mexican stereotypes in a satirical manner.

“You can’t help but like the humor that comes along with the actual cards,” Alex Ponce said. “It’s just funny, all of the stereotypes of the Mexican community, from the drunk to the prissy lady and the guy who tries too hard to get her.”

Lotería is played by Mexican families in the same way American families play “Sorry” or “Connect Four.” Lotería also is popular during large festivals and carnivals.

“If you go to the Mexican carnivals where it’s played, it’s meant to be loud, it’s meant to be rambunctious, it’s not at all a super serious game,” Ponce said.

Not all lotería players, however, are Mexican.

Las Vegas resident Cheryl Jones has played bingo for 35 years at Boulder Station. Though she can’t speak a word of Spanish, Jones, 83, follows along as the lotería cards are repeated in English.

“I love it,” Jones said. “It’s a fun game, and it has brought some new players here. I love that they include everybody in it.”

Each 90-minute session offers six games of bingo followed by six games of lotería. A six-pack of either bingo or lotería cards costs $20. Prizes include $25 gift cards to La Bonita grocery store and slot credits of up to $200.

Maria Hernandez, 35, and her sister Enriqueta Hernandez, 49, won recent lotería games at Texas Station. Born and raised in Mexico City, the two recently relocated to the United States — Maria to Las Vegas, and Enriqueta to Los Angeles. The two saw an ad for the game while shopping at La Bonita and decided to test their luck.

“It’s fun because this is our tradition,” Maria said.

Lotería is scheduled to run through May but could continue beyond if there’s enough interest, Romero said.

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