The biggest jackpot in this bingo game is a free serving of french fries, but the senior citizens who gather each week to play at the Linthicum McDonald's Restaurant don't mind.
The real prize, they say, are the friends they've made in the 12 years they've been playing together.
Every Monday at 2 p.m. sharp, McDonald's employee Gail Bensley settles at a table in the restaurant's atrium and begins to call the numbers. Usually the games attract 18 to 20 seniors, but in the summer the numbers diminish. Yesterday a dozen players competed for the free french fries.
The rules are simple. Three cards is the maximum any one player can hold. They play 10 games of regular bingo and 10 games of special bingo, in which players win by encircling the free space or creating X's, T's or K's on their cards.
The players joke that there's an unwritten rule that anyone who wins more than five games is kicked out into the parking lot. (It's never happened).
The group is so committed to its weekly ritual that when McDonald's tried to eliminate the games a few years ago, the players wrote to the company's regional headquarters to protest. The games were restored.
"It was like our private club," said Elaine Koontz, who with her husband, Roland, has been playing bingo at the restaurant for 10 years.
The Koontzes play bingo at a few other McDonald's restaurants, but say they are most loyal to the one in Linthicum because it was one of the first to begin staging the games.
Ellen Yurth was among the first players when the games, the brainchild of a McDonald's employee, started 12 years ago.
"I just have a lot of fun playing with everyone," Mrs. Yurth said.
Angelo Montante, the restaurant's owner, said he had no doubts about continuing the games when he took over the franchise 18 months ago. In addition to the bingo games, he has tried to attract senior citizens to work at the restaurant and has instituted free blood pressure screenings on the premises twice a month.
"This is where we make our living and we should put something back into the community."
Most of the bingo players are from Linthicum, but many were from other locales.
"I come for the sociability," said Stacey McMahan, as she ate an ice cream cone and waited for the game to begin. Sometimes, she gets so carried away talking, she forgets to mark her card, she confesses.
Grace T. Schutt comes each week from Hanover.
"A lot of us have made friends here," she said.