This is the story of how shotguns and Kate Spade saved a town festival.
When tight finances and slipping attendance and sponsorship threatened the long-standing Glencoe Days in Glencoe, Minn., about 50 miles west of the Twin Cities, organizers came up with an idea: bingo.
But instead of cash, a full scorecard could win a lucky player a Michael Kors purse, a Coach wallet, a Remington rifle or a SIG Sauer pistol.
Myranda VanDamme, president of the Glencoe Area Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Glencoe Days Committee, landed on the unusual pairing after googling, "How can I make a lot of money in a short period of time?"
She found that a few nonprofit organizations were raising money by offering fancy purses worth hundreds of dollars as bingo prizes. To get men in the door, they were also adding guns as a prize option.
"I had never heard of it," VanDamme said. "I said, 'What is this? I can do it.' "
Glencoe Days had its first designer purse bingo in 2018, followed by designer purse and gun bingo in 2021.
"It has saved our program," said VanDamme.
The bingo events have raised $6,000 to $12,000 per event for Glencoe Days, a three-day festival in June that includes a carnival, live music, food trucks, a parade, fireworks and a Miss Glencoe pageant. The town of about 5,600, the McLeod County seat, has been holding the festival for more than 50 years.
In recent years, variations of firearms-and-fancy-leather-goods bingo have been popping up in Twin Cities suburbs and greater Minnesota, where they're met with seemingly little controversy. There also are guns-and-diamonds bingos or purses-and-Yeti-cooler bingos.
Gun bingo has been used for fundraising events by competitive shooting teams and local hunting groups such as Ducks Unlimited, but also by the Detroit Lakes Jaycees and as a cancer research fundraising event in Blooming Prairie. You can also find gun bingos in other states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, benefiting everything from volunteer fire departments to military museums.
It was snowing on March 11, but the spacious ballroom of the Glencoe City Center hosted a sold-out crowd of 250 for the Glencoe Days fundraiser, with participants coming from as far away as Mankato and St. Cloud.
About an equal number of men and women were eyeing the prize tables featuring purses by Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade and guns by Ruger, Remington and SIG Sauer. They paid $50 each for 10 rounds of bingo.
There were couples on dates, groups of women for a ladies night out. Lots were dressed in green for a contest for best dressed for St. Patrick's Day.
"My husband would love for me to pick up a gun," said bingo player Deanne Fogarty, a Belle Plaine resident. But Fogarty's husband, who was home watching the kids, would likely be out of luck. If she were to win, Fogarty said, her husband would "get a nice green purse."
It wasn't the opportunity to win a purse that brought Hutchinson resident Corey Finke to the event. "I just heard I got a chance to win a gun, so I said, 'I'm in,' " he said.
But both the men and women playing agreed that winning a nice-to-have luxury item like a purse or a rifle made the game a lot more appealing than a cash prize that would just be spent paying the bills.
"It's nice to have a different prize that I'm shooting for," Finke said.
"I think it's nice to get something other than money," said Katlyn Mayer, of Hutchinson. "You get to pick purses you wouldn't necessarily buy otherwise."
VanDamme said her organization gets a deal on the purses it buys in bulk, but the sticker price of the purse sets (which typically included a wallet, a small purse and a larger bag) can make the prizes seem like they're worth as much as $1,200. The group works with a gun dealer from Apple Valley to supply the firearms.
She said the event would give away a total of about $3,000 worth in prizes, and she was hoping to raise up to $12,000 for Glencoe Days, which will be June 23-25.
Bingo winners who chose purse sets would be able to take them home that night, but gun winners would have to go to the gun shop later to pick up their guns. Depending on the gun, winners might need to have a permit to purchase or a permit to carry or undergo a background check.
VanDamme said she's not gotten any pushback on the gun bingo since all the legal requirements are followed.
North Mankato resident Jill Schmidt is a purse bingo veteran. She came to the Glencoe event with a Kate Spade bag she won at a bingo in North Mankato. Schmidt estimates she's won about a dozen purses in the past two or three years playing bingo.
"Once I won three in one night," she said. And she was lucky again in Glencoe, winning a Michael Kors set that included an orange wallet, a crossbody purse and a tote. The wallet alone was tagged as having a retail value of $258.
"I would never spend that," Schmidt said. "So that's why I like [winning] it."
New Ulm resident Jenn Lieder also got a bingo in one of the first games of the night in Glencoe. She selected a SIG Sauer P322, a .22-caliber pistol, as her prize.
"I've been looking for one for a while," Lieder said. She said they typically sell for $400 to $450.
Lieder said she owns three handguns, but only two purses. If she won again, "I would still probably stick with guns, but I wouldn't rule out a purse," she said. "They have a pretty nice 9 millimeter gun."
Purse bingos also have been around for several years and are "extremely popular," said Steve Pedersen, regulation manager for the Minnesota Gambling Control Board. State charitable gambling rules are basically the same whether the prizes are cash or merchandise. Currently, gun bingos are less popular than purse bingos, said Pedersen.
"I've thought about gun bingo," said Marc Tobias, gambling manager for the Rosemount Area Hockey Association. He thinks a gun bingo could draw a bigger audience for a one-time event than the weekly cash bingo at a local Carbone's Pizzeria and the monthly purse bingo and Yeti cooler bingo he currently runs. But he said he'd first need to find a gun distributor and a bigger space.
"We'd have to rent out the community center," he said.
The Northwest Area Jaycees have had designer purse bingo since 2015, and "now it's 2023 and it's still hugely popular," said Terry Ward, assistant gambling manager for bingo for the northwest metro organization.
Ward said she has also tried bingo with Yeti coolers with success.
"The place is packed and men are coming in droves," she said. "People like high-end products that they wouldn't otherwise buy for themselves."