What do Olympic dreams and Bingo have in common. Well if you know anything about Oregon’s sports history, it’s not a giant leap, but keeping the momentum going has been a monumental feat.
The state – home to many world-class athletes, a powerhouse in track and field – where NIKE running shoes first got its start – and many other notable sports programs and endeavors – has actually bid twice to host the Olympics.
Although a viable contender, it fell short of reaching its lofty goal. Despite herculean efforts by community leaders, it struggled to raise the funds needed for their dreams to come to fruition.
“Bringing an event to Oregon, such as the Olympics with a $130 million price tag,” according to one account, “seemed about as likely as the state creating its own space program to land one of its residents on the moon.”
“Oregon, like most of the nation, was still recovering from the recession of the late ’70s, which hit Oregon hard due to the collapse of the timber industry,” it was said.
But like the Olympic spirit – faced with fierce political and financial opposition – these people simply didn’t quit.
If they couldn’t bring the Olympics to Oregon. They would help Oregonians reach the Olympics. And the driving force, then as it is today, was Bingo, according to Jack Elder, chairman of the Oregon Gaming Association.
The latest attempt, formerly known as Winter Organization Oregon, was established in 1983 to bid for the 1996 Winter Olympics. An event, Elder already had a vested interest. An Olympian and army veteran, Elder, himself, had competed in luge at the 1972 Olympics, held in Sapporo, Japan, and later fielded another attempt, derailed by lack of funds, in 1984.
Catching wind of the Olympic bid – spearheaded by Sam Lackaff, described as a “randy, Portland businessman,” – Elder offered his expertise how and where the multitude of events should be held, ultimately throwing his hat in the ring – along with Lackaff.
Concurrently, another Oregon Olympian stepped up, helping give the campaign wings, donating $5,000 from his nonprofit organization.
“In the late ’70s, Chuck Richards, an Olympian in the Pentathlon in 1972, created Oregon Sports Academy, an organization that would raise money to help fund sports organizations, involved in training athletes,” according to Cliff Pfenning, who wrote “Fortius Oregon,” an historic account of these Olympic bids.
By the time the Olympic bid found its footing, his academy had already delved into raising funds through Bingo games, Pfenning said. But that, too, required tremendous time and energy.
“Richards said he needed nearly six years to negotiate the intricacies of state bureaucracy on how to operate a Bingo game, but once he did, the system of using Bingo to raise money for sports organizations took off.”
Richard's concept, Pfenning wrote, evolved into Oregon’s “Bingo Mania,” and it opened halls in Portland, Eugene, Keizer and even in the Medford area.
“We thought we had a way to help other organizations realize funds from Bingo, and we helped them wherever we could,” Richards had said.
“We taught them how to operate the games, even built the facilities to house the games when needed. It was a lot of fun to help other organizations out.
“That’s the kind of thing that makes you feel good inside,” he said.
Although they fought a good fight, the Olympic effort officially ended in 1989.
Elder, then elevated to president, announced the organization would continue, but operate under a different name, Oregon Sports Action, he said.
Realigning the team, they refocused their efforts. The new mission: To support athletes and organizations with Olympic sports. Taking a three-pronged approach, OSA would promote athletics, develop athletic facilities, then attract events to provide economic benefits from those facilities, he said.
Elder, who met Richards through the bid process, said the man ultimately became his mentor, working on a number of activities together.
“If you really want to raise money, the best way is Bingo,” Richards told him. A non-believer, Elder eventually saw the light.
And the rest, as they say, is sports history ... For the next few decades, nonprofits rode the crest of Bingo’s remarkable, money-making ability.
“With the economy rebounding and technology still having yet to work its way into every corner of society, Bingo was a major source of revenue for nonprofits, with Richards and Elder leading the way,” Pfenning said.
“From just a few organizations and games in the late ’80s, the number rose to around 20 and quickly generated enough revenue that Richards and Elder dreamed up another nonprofit to handle all the money, the Oregon Sports Trust,” he said.
Over the next 15 years, the trust doled out $4 million to support a wide variety of projects, ranging from sponsorships to grants for buying equipment, providing training and building athletic facilities, including tennis courts, a rugby field and even a dryland diving center.
In addition, the effort helped create the Oregon Sports Authority, which has worked to attract some of the nation’s biggest sporting events – from the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament and Women’s World Cup to the Davis Cup Final and World Masters Games, Pfenning said.
Taking it one step further, OSA also serves as the primary funding source for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, established to help preserve Oregon’s rich sports legacy, he said.
But the grim reality, OSA, like many nonprofit organizations, can’t rest on past laurels. The trust survives, but donations have all but dried up, highly reflective of what’s happening to the charitable gaming industry today, said Elder, which raises funds for several nonprofits at DAV Bingo in Portland.
When the Oregon Charitable Gaming Association was officially established in 2001, there were close to 150 charitable licenses.
Today, according to Elder, there are roughly 20 Class A licenses, monitored and administered since 1989 by Oregon’s Department of Justice, which preserves the sanctity of the game.
“All halls are in trouble,” said Elder, who has watched his own funds free-fall from $300,000 to $100,000 per annum over the past 18 months.
“All are experiencing extreme financial hardship. Even the largest licensee in the state of Oregon, who had the whole town to itself and was grandfathered in, with unlimited hours, prizes and could operate 24/7 if they wanted to. They had normal quarterlies of $300,000 to $400,000 and are now in the negative balance,” he said.
And the biggest reason, he sees, is at the heart of most matters.
“The state has become involved in gaming. The state offers more opportunities in more locations than we as Bingo operators do,” he said.
“Video poker, lottery, keno are all operated by the state to the tune of billions per annum.
“Today, the Class A Bingo operators only generate $4 to $5 million a year. Games pay out a minimum of 70 percent in prizes, sometimes 84 to 85 percent if there are too few people in the hall,” he added.
In addition, Bingo operators are strictly limited to how often the games can be played each week, he said.
Another reason, he noted, the culture today. “We are looking at a game created 80 to 90 years ago, based on a social construct that is no longer valid. They do different things, different activities.
“Then there’s the Internet,” he said.
Also, it takes time to play Bingo.
“The sessions are three hours. It’s a social process. The average spend is $40 to $70 a session. Casual gambling, done in a very short time, matches the attention span of today’s human. You can spend $20 in video poker before you’ve had a chance to finish your coke.”
But he’s not ready to throw in the towel and accept defeat. And neither should other charitable organizations, he said.
A veteran of adversity, he urges charities to band together, unite as one voice and level the playing field by changing Bingo and the current legislation.
“We need to determine how rules can be changed or tweaked to allow charitable games to become attractive again,” he said.
Often competing for the same funds, charities, for the good of the industry, need to find common ground and be less resistant to change, recalling initial opposition to the use of electronic dauber devices.
Despite the odds, Elder’s prediction is not bleak, but heeds people to get off the bench. Become a participant, not a spectator, and get back in the game.
“The future of Bingo has a niche, but an even smaller niche. People today have a need for social contact. It’s part of the human psyche. We need to offer them financial incentive or they will go someplace else,” he said.
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Olympian Is Lauded For Sport Support
As a keynote speaker, Jack Elder, chairman of Oregon Charitable Gaming Association, has often been asked to share his experience as an Olympian. A 2010 inductee into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, he also wrote a journal for “The Oregonian” during the Vancouver Winter Games.
Do You Know Jack ...
Elder was a member of the 1972 Winter Olympic team in the sport of luge, spent 13 years in the radio business as a broadcaster, ran with the bulls in Pamplona, was in a movie with Elvis Presley, likes trout fishing, golf, plays Bocce and participates in the No Limit Texas Hold ’em poker tournaments.
Career Trajectory ...
Elder played football at Kent-Meridian High School in Washington and was an All-State linebacker in 1958. He also competed in judo, earning a black belt when he was still in high school. Elder learned luge in the early 1960s when he was in the U.S. Army (1962-66) and stationed near Garmisch, Germany.
He competed at the World Championships in 1965, 1967, 1970 and 1971, in addition to the 1972 Winter Olympics. In 1969 Elder was third in singles at the U.S. and North American luge championships.
In 1984, Elder came out of retirement and placed third in the U.S. doubles in luge, but retired for good shortly thereafter. He spent 13 years as a radio broadcaster, was a director of marketing for a ski area, Director of Sports and Venues for the 1998 World Masters Games and executive director of a downtown development association.
Elder also founded Oregon Sports Action, a group that investigated the possibility of bringing an Olympic Winter Games to Oregon. Its mission continues today ...
Here’s An Excerpt From His 2010 Oregonian Olympic Journal:
Now I can call myself an Olympian. That was my thought as we waited to enter the tunnel that lead to Makomanai Stadium in Sapporo, Japan, for the opening ceremony of the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.
The thought of being an Olympian was unimaginable just a few years before.
Then I was standing alongside the luge run in Berchtesgaden when one of the German sledders asked, “Are you going to the Olympics next year?”
That’s when it really hit me, I could be an Olympian!
It has been 38 years since then. Nine Winter Olympic Games have come and gone since the Games of Sapporo in 1972 and by counting on my fingers I see that nine Olympiads preceded “my” Games.
Synchronicity, coincidence? Whatever the case, it seems to either happen more or you notice more as time slips by.
My journey to being an Olympian started in April 1964. Luge had made its debut a few months earlier in the Games held in Innsbruck, Austria, just 30 short miles from the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where I was stationed courtesy of the U.S. Army.
I discovered both when I met Jim Higgins, a fellow GI and member of the U.S. luge team that had competed in Innsbruck.
You might have seen the historic picture on the cover of “Newsweek” of Jim and his partner, Ron Walters, flying out of the track during their first run of the doubles competition at the Innsbruck Games.
Fortunately, I had not ...
After quizzing Jim about the slick- looking, dark-blue, warm-up suit with “U.S.A.” on the front and what he had done to get it, I decided I wanted one, too, and it sounded like this luge thing was a way to get one.
In the many details Jim provided, I also found that the coach for the U.S. team was a master sergeant, who was also stationed in Garmisch. I contacted him, and he assured me that I could try my hand at luge the following winter season.
The year dragged by slowly. December finally arrived and Master Sgt. Bob Cole, Jim Higgins and another Olympian Bud Feltman all traveled to the Innsbruck track at Igls.
We arrived late and training for the upcoming race already had begun.
Instead of starting at the 200- or 500-meter junctures, lugers were at the men's start of 1,000-meters.
Cole told me to “just keep your feet down” and go slow until I felt confident.
I did as told but as ice bits flew off the heels of my sneakers I lifted my feet, which caused me to go even faster.
After banging walls left and right, picking up my feet, putting down my feet – and doing it all repeatedly – I crossed the finish line. I practically ran back to the top, where I asked Cole how I did.
“Make it to the bottom?” came his cool reply. “You did fine, now do it again.”
Seven years and two months later I became an Olympian. Between then and now I have learned the joy and responsibility of holding that title. We are after all, ordinary citizens who had at one point in our lives had a very extraordinary experience.
For the newcomers, tonight will be the time many athletes in the Vancouver Olympic Games become an Olympian.
They, too, will learn that once you are an Olympian you will always be an Olympian. And with it comes a very special shared experience with the greatest winter athletes in the world.