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By Brent Schanding

When Arlene Self, 44, of Shelbyville hits the bingo halls, she rarely goes alone. Instead, a small, spotted dog and an angel accompany her. Both are trinkets Self carries in her "bingo bag" to bring her good luck.

Her angel is actually a plastic figurine necklace, she explained. The dog is a Dalmatian cigarette lighter that Self inherited from her mother-in-law.

"She always did pretty good at Bingo," she said.

Sometimes the charms have proved lucky for Self. The woman, who acts as office manager for her family's body shop, once won a $1,000 cover-all at the now defunct Big Time Bingo, off Midland Trail.

"That was my biggest win," she said.

And although those kinds of payouts are not typical, Self said hitting a jackpot is just an extra bonus compared to the relaxation the game provides her.

"I enjoy it. It makes me mellow," she said. "I usually take about $50 with me. And if I win, I spend more."

While Self and other avid players, potentially have the chance to win big, the biggest winners from bingo could surprisingly be local charities.

That's according to Harry Vinegar, 36, the owner of the new Shelby Bingo Plus in Simpsonville Town Centre, off Buck Creek Road.

Dozens of tables and four big screen TVs fill the 11,500 sq. feet converted bingo hall. There, local non-profit agencies host bingo games at least four times a week. The cover charge is usually less than $10, and those proceeds go directly to host charities.

"It's an excellent fundraiser for them," Vinegar said.

The Dorman Center and the Shelby County Humane Society, regularly operate charitable bingo games at Shelby Bingo Plus, twice a week.

Proceeds help the Dorman Center cover operational costs for its child outreach and social programs. The humane society uses proceeds from its bingo operations to buy medicine and supplies and to fund spay/neuter programs at the shelter, a representative said.

Vinegar hopes to attract other non-profit agencies to host bingo at the Simpsonville facility. He is betting any non-profit would be a big winner from the charitable gaming operation.

"I think charitable gaming in Shelby County is the best kept secret as far as helping non-profits. It keeps the money in Shelby County," Vinegar said. "It's also not a very expensive night out for players and you have the chance to win hundreds of dollars."

Jackpots vary, but maximum bingo payouts are limited to $5,000 each night, under state law.

Vinegar said Shelby Bingo Plus has seen an average of about 200 players, since its opening earlier this month. Many travel from around the region to play here, he said.

"We're close to the interstate. It's a prime location," he said.

But there could be one whammy in the works. Plans for expanded casino gambling in Kentucky threaten to bankrupt charitable bingo operations across the state. Vinegar believes that expanded gambling would draw patrons from bingo halls and profits from casinos would go to corporations, not non-profits.

"Unless there's some kind of provision for non-profits it's going to kill charitable gaming," Vinegar said.

Expanded gambling would require the passage of an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution. State voters would then have to approve the measure.

But even if Kentucky voters approve expanded gambling, players should probably remember the golden rule of bingo. Don't clear the cards until everything is final.

If you go...

Shelby Bingo Plus is located at 200 Buck Creek Road.

The facility allows smoking, but features an enclosed, ventilated smoke-free playing area. The hall features an onsite ATM, snack bar and vending machines. The hall also offers $1 pull-tab games. Doors open 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Games start at 7:15 p.m. Cover is $7-10. It is available for rent as a banquet or party facility. For more information call 417-0007.