COMMUNITY groups are losing vital funds as a large Melbourne-based bingo centre lures patrons with large prize pools, cheaper tickets and free bus trips.
Bendigo organisations using bingo as a way to raise money for their community activities say they have noticed a drop in numbers of players.
The Marist Brothers Band relies solely on weekly bingo games to raise money for instruments, uniforms, music and band equipment.
Band treasurer Mark Thompson said their takings on nights when Thomastown Bingo Centre picks up Bendigo patrons had been up to $1000 less than on other nights.
"It's hard. There's not really any way we can compete with it," Mr Thompson said.
The bingo organiser for St Therese's and St Joseph's primary schools, Kylie Ellis, has noticed a correlation between the Thomastown bus service and the drop in bingo players.
"It comes down to the fact that the people of Bendigo are spending their money elsewhere," Ms Ellis said.
Thomastown Bingo Centre managing director Doug Willmot said he did not think his once-a-fortnight bus service was having a negative effect.
It's hard, there's not really any way we can compete with it.
"There's nothing sinister in it. If it were sinister, we'd be bussing people in every night," Mr Willmot said.
Mr Willmot said he was all about business and healthy competition.
"In order for us to survive, we've had to say, 'if the local market is not quite big enough, we need to spread our wings and offer something to country people'."
"If other bingo centres are unhappy with what we're doing, they should lift their game."
Mr Willmot said the top prize money in Thomastown could be between $15,000 and $25,000.
Kangaroo Flat's Tracy Ford, 34, is a long-time bingo player at Bendigo Bingo Centre and goes to Thomastown every second Saturday.
"Nothing beats the home town but travelling to Thomastown is an exciting part of my fortnight," Ms Ford said.
"It's perfectly reasonable that people want to go somewhere else where there is bigger prize money."
Bendigo Bingo Centre manager Kelly Creely said some nights the maximum they can offer is $1000.
"I think the patrons have had a whole new world opened up to them," she said.