IT’S hard to miss the Tico Bingo if youlive in Costa Rica.Tico Bingo is the national fundraiserfor the Costa Rican Red Cross. Cards aresold on the streets and door to door. Prizesinclude houses, cars and big sums of cash– incentive enough to buy a card.Four times a year the game is playedon national TV, with about 600,000 playersacross the country watching.Regular Tico Bingo cards cost ¢1,000($2.20) and the holiday edition, on salenow, costs ¢1,500 ($3.30).Tico Bingo cards are smaller than regularbingo cards, with four rows of fivenumbers, and no free space. Each cardincludes a card number and a “lucky”number.TICO Bingo includes five games ofbingo and a drawing for the lucky number.The cards are computerized and winningcard numbers are listed in the newspapersthe next day and posted in stores and otherprominent places, so it’s not necessary towatch the televised game to see if you’vewon something.With such big prizes and so much publicity,plus TV time, how much moneyactually goes to the Red Cross?“Of the ¢1,500 you pay for a TicoBingo card, ¢170 goes to the person whosells it, usually a Red Cross volunteer, and¢170 goes directly to the chapter that sellsthe card. Later, after all expenses are paid,including prizes and publicity, the chaptersreceive ¢55 for each card sold. The restgoes to the national headquarters, whichbuys supplies in bulk for the chapters,trains volunteers and personnel, and buysambulances and other equipment,”explained Miguel Carmona, president ofthe Red Cross Association of Costa Rica.“LAST year, Tico Bingo paid for sixnew ambulances at a cost of $308,000,”Carmona added.He said that if a unit sells 10,000 regularTico Bingo cards, it would get¢700,000 directly from the sale of cards,plus ¢550,000 from the net gain, for a totalof ¢2.25 million ($4,978).How much is left for the national RedCross depends on the number of cards soldand the expenses, which include printing,publicity and prizes. The August bingoyielded ¢135 per card, for a total of ¢81million ($179,204).So, of the ¢1,000 paid for a regularcard, only ¢360 goes to the Red Cross.However, organizers said they feel thatwithout the hefty prizes, people wouldn’tsupport Tico Bingo.BY law, the Red Cross has a monopolyon bingo here, Carmona said. Bingo gamesin schools, parishes or communities mustobtain permission from their local RedCross unit, and sometimes a fee is asked.In larger cities, the Red Cross operatesbingo parlors. Other units of the Red Crosshold bingos on a regular basis to raisemoney.“Tico Bingo is totally run by the RedCross here. When we started 17 years agowe contracted out the game, but once welearned how to run it the Red Cross took itover,” Carmona said.PRIZES for the upcoming Dec. 19Tico Bingo include 100 new cars that willbe awarded by brands, in five groups of 20prizes each. The most expensive brand, theNissan Almera, will come with cash prizesof $10,000 per car. Additionally, 600 prizesof ¢50,000 ($110) will be awarded, and¢7,000 ($15.48) for each of the 2,000lucky number winners.For many people, playing Tico Bingois a way to help the Red Cross. Of course,winning a prize is nice too.