Bingo is one of the nation’s favourite pastimes, counting stars such as Robbie Williams, Vic Reeves and Russell Crowe among its fans.
Nearly 5,000 players a week cross the threshold of Mecca Bingo in Chesterfield, looking for fun, friendship and, if they’re lucky, a win.
But the feeling of euphoria at bagging the big bucks is often preceded by a state of shock.
Julie Wardle, 44, was visibly shaking after winning a cool £25,000 on her visit to the town’s bingo hall.
She said: “I can’t believe it . . . it’s making my head spin. I can’t think about how I’m going to spend it.”
It’s a reaction which Mecca operations manager Andy Skene sees time and time again. He said: “We have tears, we have laughter, we get the whole spectrum. We had one lucky winner who was shaking and crying over £25,000.”
Big wins are not unusual at the Foljambe Road site where half a dozen lucky members have scooped similar jackpots this year.
The lure of lucre draws old and young into a welcoming community which plays nicely together.
Andy said: “They see it as a social event, a place where they come to meet friends.
“With any new members, we try to sit them with people who can show them what to do.
“One of the things about bingo is that you can go out on your own to play it.”
Gaynor Lawton, 65, has been going to bingo on her own for five years. She said: “Everyone is lovely and friendly - you can talk to anyone, have a joke and you very rarely get an argument.”
The level-headed gran is an advocate of responsible play. She said: “I don’t come if I don’t win. Tonight, I’ve won £150 so that will do me for the next three nights. Some people go mad and spend hundreds of pounds - that would frighten me to death.”
Two years ago Gaynor won £1,000 which she divided between her daughter and two grandchildren.
Young mums Kay and Toni Smith spend about £30 each on bingo and split any money they win. Their biggest win has been £150. Kay said: “Hopefully, we’ll win lots of money to spend on the kids.”
The sisters, who live in Clowne, are indicative of the growing number of people in their20s who play bingo. Toni said: “A lot of young people come here first, hoping to win and go into town afterwards.”
Andy Skene added: “We get a lot of young people coming through the door. We are competitively priced with the likes of Wetherspoons on food and booze.”
The Chesterfield centre has benefited from a £500,000 refit this year, creating a new bar and lounge where people can eat, drink, chat and play bingo to their heart’s content.
* Find out how our reporter fared on her first shot at bingo. See this week’s Derbyshire Times.