PHARR — The hall of Golden Valley Bingo here is sparsely populated with some 20 players.

Bingo Caller Esmer Rodriguez cleans the marked ping pong balls for the mechanical ball blower before the start of a game at El Bingo Grande on Friday, May 22, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez |

While the number of players would normally be much higher on any regular Friday evening, the mask-wearing Bingo players is a small step back toward normalcy.

Friday marked that step back following an order by Governor Greg Abbott which allowed for Bingo halls to reopen with a limited capacity.

“People are wanting to stay at home. They don’t want to come out, so it’s definitely affected business,” Golden Valley Bingo manager Emmitt Silguero said. “As things progress, I feel like people are starting to feel a little more safer, especially after all the precautions we’re taking.”

These precautions include a security guard checking visitors’ temperatures with a non-contact forehead infrared thermometer before entering the Bingo hall, requiring everyone to wear masks, and blue tape marking the floor to remind visitors to practice social distancing.

“We’re trying to make everything better for them to make them feel safe to come out,” Silguero said.

While some Bingo halls were forced to remain closed throughout the community-wide shutdowns, others found ways to adapt in order to stay in business.

El Bingo Grande in McAllen opened up two weeks ago by introducing drive-in Bingo at their facility.

“You actually play Bingo in your vehicle,” El Bingo Grande manager Melda Montañez explained. “It was pretty neat.”

Tilly Lopez marks numbers on her Bingo cards at El Bingo Grande on Friday, May 22, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez |

El Bingo Grande reopened on Thursday, May 7, and started drive-in Bingo on Monday, May 11.

“We were in full force outside,” Montañez said. “By the third or fourth day that we were open, (customers) started liking it. People responded real well to it. If they like it, we’re going to have to keep it.”

Montañez said that participants arrive, staff will approach the vehicle and provide everything they need to play including Bingo cards and computers for those who wish to play electronically. Each vehicle is also provided with a trash bag for players to discard their used Bingo cards.

“(Workers) walk around and ask if you want snacks or food from the concession stand,” Montañez said. “Everything is really catered to the customers outside.”

She said that El Bingo Grande, which is run by non-profit charities, was impacted financially after being closed for 50 days, but she hopes that the extra precautions that the Bingo hall is taking will help welcome players back.

“I’m nervous,” Montañez said. “Not just because of the pandemic, it’s being nervous about whether customers will respond. I feel better because I know that people are responding to our drive-in Bingo, and people are really coming in because they love it. People are getting comfortable, and the drive-in really helped. They really like that.”