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Full house at Cardiff's bingo halls

Bingo(StephenSelf)

George Osborne’s announcement in his budget speech on Wednesday that Bingo tax was to be cut to 10 per cent was greeted with mocking jeers of “house” by MPs.

But every night in bingo halls up and down the land, the same call is followed by cheers instead. It’s a busy Thursday evening at just one such hall, Club 3000 Bingo in Gabalfa, and there’s barely a spare seat to be found in the garish triple-decker arena.

The punters fall silent as the numbers from an electronic screen are read out by a young lady who sadly neglects the classic bingo calls – there’s no “legs 11” or “two little ducks” and no balls either, technology has done away with them.

In between games, there’s a buzz as people chat to those sat around them, some congratulating others, some jokingly cursing their luck.

Over the last few days columnists and politicos have been filling twitter and column inches with arguments about whether Osborne’s “beer and bingo” budget is patronising, but most in the hall couldn’t care less. They’ve come for the company, and a night out of the house.

For some, getting out of the house is especially important. It’s only Stephen Self’s second visit to the hall, but he’s come to help take his mind off the sudden death of his wife, just a few weeks ago.

Stephen, 55 and from north Cardiff, says the social atmosphere has helped.

“The people here are really nice. I’ve had a chat with some nice people and I’ll be coming back. “I was told by my three kids to get out of the house, and it’s been good to see people and think about something else. The only thing is, I haven’t had much luck yet, but to be honest I don’t think it really matter if you win or not.”

Stephen’s philosophical outlook is shared by Caerau pensioners Rita Owen and Pauline Power. They’ve been coming weekly for two years and agree it’s the company that counts.

“It’s a night out with the girls, people always like a night out,” says Pauline, 66.

Bingo industry bosses have greeted the tax cut with much fanfare, but Rita and Pauline aren’t convinced. “I don’t think it’s going to make any difference to us,” says Rita, 76. “They’re not going to put the prizes up!” she added.

Despite Osborne’s claim his tax cut is to help a struggling industry – hundreds of clubs have closed in the last few decades – Rita and Pauline say they’ve not noticed a decline in the last few years.

Testament to their claims is the fact there’s not an empty seat in the hall, until one lucky soul calls “house”. The hundreds chatter loudly as they slowly file out, though not many are talking about the “beer and bingo” budget.

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