Are Independent Bingo Halls Better than Big Bingo Chains?

Bingo Chains vs Independent Bingo BrandsWhen we talk about bingo halls, it’s easy just to think about the Mecca’s, Buzz’s, and Club3000’s dotted up and down the country.

The big chain brands seem to dominate the industry with TV adverts and online marketing, but they aren’t the only ones providing bingo to the Great British public.

Unbeknownst to most of us, there are a small army of independent 2 or 3 club brands that serve small areas of the country. We don’t know about most of them because we don’t live near them, but they are most definitely out there.

There is no major benefit to playing with a big chain brand over a small independent brand or vice verser, but there will be little differences, and that is partly what we are talking about today.

We’re also going to take a look at the stories behind a few smaller independent brands to give you an idea as to how they came about, and how they are run differently to the big chains.

It’s all bingo at the end of the day, and that’s the main thing, but where you play has an undeniable impact on the quality of your afternoon or evening out.

How Are Bingo Chains Different to Small Independent Bingo Clubs?

Cosmo Bingo Stalybridge Chirstmas

Now obviously, a great big bingo chain like Mecca will have a lot more to play with in terms of resources, so to some degree, you might get bigger and better offers at a chain, more food and drink options, and more regular slot game updates, but not always.

These big companies are more difficult to run because there is so much more to factor in when making brand wide decisions. An offer of free bingo, for example, might pay back dividends at some clubs, but at quieter ones it might end up resulting in a loss.

Big bingo companies have to balance things out between all of their clubs, and managers don’t have easy access to the top brass to ask permission

On the other hand, a small brand with just a couple of clubs can make decisions much more easily because they only have a few clubs to manage – so if the owner fancies running a promotion next week because this week has been busy, they can.

Smaller brands can be much more exciting and impulsive.

They can personalise their bingo halls too.

You often find that all Buzz clubs look alike, for example; this is because the overall company has deals with certain providers in terms of food, drink, machines, furniture suppliers, carpet suppliers etc., so a lot like a Holiday Inn, they all look the same.

They also have standardised ways of doing things across the business, so every detail of your bingo session is quite tightly controlled.

Independent clubs can pretty much do what they like so long as the owner signs off on it. The relationship between the managers and the owner will be much closer at a smaller club, so again, ideas and decisions can be fielded and agreed upon very quickly.

Halloween CupcakesIf the manager wants to run a Halloween promotion and buy spooky cupcakes for everyone that weekend, they can just do it. This sort of thing gives smaller clubs a lot more freedom, flexibility, and personality.

Big brands will probably give each of their clubs a small budget for this sort of thing, but it’s not quite the same.

Above all else though, because smaller clubs will know their customers better, they can run these sorts of promotions and special days in a way that they know will suit their players. If they know that Wendy and her lot love any opportunity to dress up, they can do more of that sort of thing knowing it will go down well – at a big chain, that might be a bit more hit and miss.

How Many Independent Bingo Clubs Are There?

Clifton Bingo

Before getting into the numbers, we should explain what we mean here.

Technically, Club3000 are an independent brand because they are independently owned and not part of a larger umbrella company. However, they have 24 clubs spread from Wales, through England and up into Scotland, so we would consider them a big chain and would not include them when talking about indie bingo halls.

Mecca are actually owned by The Rank Group, a much bigger company, so not only are they a big chain brand, but they are not independently owned either. We definitely would not include them.

Then you get clubs like Cosmo Bingo which only has two bingo halls, but is actually owned by Boylesports, a big betting and online casino brand. Cosmo was independent before Boylesports came in though, and they let them run as an independent entity for the most part, so we would still include brands like Cosmo when talking about small indie bingo halls.

Hope that’s clear as mud!

With that said, here is a list of all the independent bingo brands we could find in the UK:

Brand Name Number of Clubs Location
Apple Bingo 1 London
Astoria Bingo 1 Hull
Barney’s Bingo 1 Fleetwood
Bingo Godz 1 Farnborough
BJ’s Bingo 1 Birmingham
Border Bingo 1 Galashiels
Boston Gliderdrome Bingo 1 Boston
Capitol Bingo 1 St Austell
Carlton Bingo 10 Throughout Scotland
Castle Bingo 11 Wales, Corby, Bootle, Birmingham
Clifton Bingo 1 York
Club 2000 2 Bedford, Runcorn
Connaught Bingo 1 Herne Bay
Coronet Bingo 1 Didcot
Cosmo Bingo 2 Stalybridge, Eccles
Crown Bingo 3 Bognor Regis, Leigh Park, Cosham
Flutters Bingo 1 Biggleswade
Forth Bingo 1 Falkirk
Hollywood Clubs 2 Hednesford, Felling
Leo’s Bingo 5 South Coast
LOL Bingo 1 Hapurhey
Majestic Bingo 8 Wales, Donnington, Bishop Auckland, Skegness, Worcester, Cornwall
NB Leisure 2 Bathgate, Glasgow
New Globe Bingo 1 Johnstone
North Parade Social 1 Skegness
Opera Bingo 5 Barrow, Whitehaven, Workington, Carlisle, St Helens
Palais Bingo 1 Worksop
Palace Bingo 2 Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe
Pery’s Bingo 1 Newark
Premier Bingo 3 Alloa, Perth, Cowdenbeath
Regal Bingo 1 Bridlington
Reger’s Bingo 1 Creswell
Ritz Bingo 1 Belper
Ritz Bingo and Social Club 1 Newcastle
Ritz Bingo 1 Kings Lynn
Shipley’s Bingo 4 Worcester, Bristol, Edmonton Green, Kidderminster
Winners Bingo 2 Thetford, Wisbech

This list was created in October 2023, and while we may have missed a few out, if we add these together that’s 84 bingo clubs operating independently, or as part of a very small group.

Buzz Bingo have 82 clubs, Mecca 76, and Club 3000 have 24, so the indies actually outnumber the chain brands if we take them one at a time.

We left out Merkur too, as even though they only have 3 bingo clubs, the company also runs slots, online casinos, and provides slot machines to venues so it is a much bigger company than its three bingo halls suggest.

Anyway, if we add them all together we get 269 bingo halls, of which 84 are independent or part of a much smaller operation – that’s 31.22% of all clubs.

The three chains we mentioned work out at:

  • Buzz Bingo – 30.48%
  • Mecca Bingo – 28.25%
  • Club 3000 – 8.92%

As time goes on these numbers will change a bit with any closures or, heaven forbid, new bingo halls opening up, but you can see that almost a third of all bingo clubs in the UK are independently operated.

This doesn’t account for multi-purpose venues that run bingo nights neither, we have only really looked at venues where the main activity is bingo.

So even if there isn’t one near where you live, independent bingo halls are a massive part of the British bingo industry, and long may that continue to be the case!

Smaller Bingo Brand Case Studies

If you look at a bingo company like Buzz, it doesn’t really have a human side. You don’t associate it with anyone in particular because you have no idea who is really running the show, it’s owned by a big faceless corporation.

There is no doubt that it offers a great night out at the bingo, with comfortable stylish bingo halls, great games and professional staff, but its identity is all tied up with the logo really.

That isn’t the case for smaller brands, which are often still owned and ran by the people who founded them or their families.

Here are a couple of examples we will look into.

Crown Bingo – South Coast

Crown Bingo LogoThe Crown Bingo business has been running for over 50 years, proudly running 3 clubs all within about 20 miles of each other on the South Coast of England.

The company was started by Peter Arnett in 1968, before being passed down to his two sons after Peter retired.

The first of their clubs opened in Gosport, and gradually their number rose to 5 clubs, although it has now been scaled back to 3 after some difficult times for the industry.

Crown Bingo has survived though, which is more than can be said for many other indie bingo halls, and this is probably down to the way they treat their customers.

Heavily subsidised food for their members, cars and holidays given away each year at every club on top of regular prizes, and club parties with dance routines and singing staff members all help to create an atmosphere that people enjoy and want to keep coming back to.

It’s a brand that tries to keep things traditional as much as possible, without completely eschewing new technology, and this seems to be a popular approach that has kept the small business thriving even through two industry declines.

Leo’s Bingo

Leo Leisure LogoAnother family run business, Leo Leisure was opened in 1985 by Peter and Janice Brown, a husband and wife team who had both worked managing Ladbrokes bingo halls before opening up on their own.

Their first club was in Portsmouth, which they ran happily for a decade before opening their second in Eastleigh, in 1994.

This experience enabled them to build a small fleet of 5 bingo halls, and although their original venue is no longer part of the business, it has been replaced.

The Brown’s passed the business on to their sons, Duncan and Peter, who have expanded operations to include a cinema and a kids soft play centre, keeping wholesome entertainment at the heart of the business.

They are still looking for opportunities to expand, and their most recent bingo hall in Southampton was opened by none other than Gareth Gates in 2022.

Leo Leisure have kept things fairly local, sticking to seaside towns in the far South of England, as well as the Isle of Wight.

Keeping their focus on providing value for money has kept the business strong, and allowed them to not only survive but to grow and develop too.