What is the History of Bingo?

It’s probably quite safe to say that bingo is one of the world’s most known and most popular games. Thanks to the simplicity of how to play it, as well as the ability to earn cash winnings in the process, the game has progressed from being something which is played in huge halls to being a product which is readily available online at various different locations.

However, it’s been around for quite a lot longer than you might think. So, where exactly did the game come from and how did it grow to become what it is today? Let’s have a look back at the history of bingo.

Hundreds of Years Ago…

Bingo, as people know it today, is a form of lottery, and it’s actually considered to be a direct descendant of an Italian game known as, ‘Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia’. This came about in the year of 1530, when Italy as a country became united as one, and therefore brought about the Italian National Lottery, which bore the aforementioned name. This is still held at weekly intervals in the country to this date, being considered invaluable to the government’s budget thanks to its yearly contribution of in excess of $75 million.

It wouldn’t be until many years later, in 1778, that a report would surface telling of the game, ‘Le Lotto’ in France. The idea had captured the fascination of the intelligentsia in the country, and in the classic version of Lotto which was developed there, the playing card used in the game was split into three horizontal and nine vertical rows. Each of the horizontal rows had five numbered and four blank squares, ordered randomly while the vertical rows contained numbers from one to 10 in the first row, 11 to 20 in the next and so on, up to 90. The equipment was rounded off with chips numbered from one to 90, and each player was dealt a card before the caller would draw one of the chips from a cloth bag and call the number out.

This then advanced onwards to become the base game we know of in today’s society. However, there would also be the influence of a Polish, US-based toy salesman many years later, which brought it to prominence further afield.

The Lowly Salesman

In December of 1929, Edwin S. Lowe, a New York toy salesman struggling to earn a living, took it upon himself to drive to a small town in Georgia, known as Jacksonville – not to be confused with the Florida city of the same name. It would be here that his next day’s appointments would take place. A few miles from the town, he came across a country carnival. Despite it being late at night, one of the carnival booths was still open and packed with people. Inside, participants were playing a variation of Lotto, which they had named ‘Beano’. It followed the same idea as the version being played by French socialists, but the gamers here would use a bean to cover the called number on their card. Once someone had filled a line on their card, be that horizontally, vertically or diagonally, they were the winner, and they would announce it by yelling out, “BEANO!”.

Upon his return to New York, Lowe purchased some dried beans and a rubber numbering stamp to print such on cardboard. He invited friends round and saw them playing the game of Beano with the same excitement as those he’d seen at the carnival. During one round of the game, a female participant became so elated at winning that she leapt up from her seat, and instead of yelling out the word, “beano”, she stuttered and called out “BINGO!”.

This inserted the idea into Lowe’s head to turn it into an actual product to sell. The earliest of these were launched in two separate variations, one with twelve cards for a dollar, and the other with twenty-four cards for two dollars. It became an instant hit and marked the birth of the game, bingo.

The European Difference

Bingo is believed to have migrated from Italy into France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe in the 18th century. The European version does have its differences to the US product, although both use the same name, and 90-ball bingo is a lot wider known throughout Great Britain than the 75-ball American sister product.

The exact origins of the UK version of the bingo game are not specifically known. It’s unclear as to why 90 balls are used instead of 75, but the fact still remains that the game has grown immensely over the years. Its first real rise to prominence came in the 1960s and it was in these years and beyond that the game began being played in large halls, in order to cater to the growing demand for it. Bingo proceeded being played in such a way for many many years, allowing people to not only play the game itself, but to socialise and make friends while doing so.

It is still played in such a way to this day, with vast halls that have been purpose-built for playing bingo in providing a perfect location for the UK public. Interlinked bingo halls now also offer huge cash prize jackpots, and with over 3 million British people attending games of bingo every week, there’s a strong conclusion that more residents go to bingo than go to the cinema.

From Offline to Online

The bingo industry in the United Kingdom would feel the shockwaves of the smoking ban though, as prior to this, players were able to visit a bingo hall and have drinks, food and a cigarette or two within the actual building. As of July 2007, smoking has been banned inside pubs, bars, restaurants and other public buildings in England, with bingo halls being included in this. A year earlier, Scotland had also introduced the same kind of law.

As a result of such, many bingo hall owners have claimed that their attendance levels have slumped, thanks to many players not being able to get behind the idea of playing their favourite game without the ability to smoke at the same time. The figures speak for themselves, with nearly 600 bingo clubs around the country being available in 2005 and just under 400 opening their doors in 2014.

Not only that, but the introduction of bingo games to the online world has also caused a few problems for the land-based establishments, as people can now access various different forms of the game via their personal computer. In fact, being able to play the game from home is estimated to have been accessible since 1996 when a free bingo game called, ‘Bingo Zone’ was launched. This was followed by the release of ‘Bingo Blitz’ by Uproar in 1998.

It’s true that the internet and all its features cater mainly to a younger demographic, and because of the effects of games being available online as well as the aforementioned smoking ban, land-based establishments had to rethink their ways of marketing. Since then, the industry rallied together with a newer focus on enticing younger players to their halls, with many of them being transformed into locations that create an atmosphere relating to pub culture, instead of the traditional “eyes down, looking” approach of years gone by. And while this may have had some effect on keeping certain companies afloat, such as big name brands like Mecca or Coral, many others have seen their brick and mortar buildings fade away.

What does the Future Hold for Bingo?

Bingo is continually evolving, keeping up with the modern times and trends. It’s still one of the country’s favourite pastimes, and there are even products available to play via social media sites, such as Facebook. In addition, the introduction of live bingo callers and, in more recent years, the ability to play the game via your mobile device, has further improved the game’s overall exterior.

However, while it is spread far and wide across just about all media outlets, there’s only so much competition that an industry can take. There’s a vast amount of online bingo sites available to play on, although interest in the game is not at the vast peaks that it used to be back in the day. It could be that it’s reached its saturation point within the UK. If so, an industry at its peak only has one way to go, and considering the vast amount of other betting games available online, it could be that the country sees bingo fade away almost to nothing.