History of bingo

There is a common conception of bingo in most people’s minds: a hall, possibly in a community centre, filled with old people hunched over cards as someone calls out numbers in a droning monotone.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Bingo is a game steeped in history and rightly deserves its place as one of the earliest and longest lasting community gambling games. In fact, bingo deserves a lot more recognition for how gambling laws were shaped and amended over the years than most people give it credit for.

During 1945, for example, most American counties had banned all forms of gambling, including bingo. The mayor of Evansville, Indiana, decided to allow ‘selected’ organisations the chance to hold bingo tournaments, much to the anger of those societies and clubs that were left out.

This led to a riot in the streets of Evansville, the arrest of eight people, the damaging of two police cars and the destruction of property – all because of a game of bingo! And the rioters were not the elderly members of the local retirement home, they were the young people who took exception to having their evenings of fun and gambling denied.

History of bingo

Where did bingo begin?

Bingo traces its roots back to a lottery game in 15th century Italy called ‘Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia’ (the Lotto Game of Italy). While we now see lotto and bingo games completely different, the original Lotto d’Italia had a huge influence on how the game of bingo developed.

From Italy, the game spread into France, England and Germany where it began to take on a life of its own. In France, bingo (called Le Lotto) was a game played by the wealthy while in Germany bingo was used not only as a gambling game but as an educational tool to teach children spelling, animal names and mathematical tables.

Le Lotto featured a card with 3 rows and 9 columns to give 27 spaces. 5 spaces in each row had numbers from 1 to 90. This layout was the basis for the modern bingo card design. Le Lotto was also where the ‘caller’ or the person shouting out the chosen numbers was first introduced.

Bingo travels to America

The popularity of bingo really took off after the game made its way to the USA, thanks largely to Hugh J. Ward and Edwin Lowe. Ward is credited with standardising the rules of modern bingo and bringing it to fairs and carnivals during the early 1920s. Lowe was a toy merchandiser who saw the game being played at an Atlanta carnival in 1929, took it to New York and introduced it to his friends. The game was so popular that he decided to create a formal game with printed cards and professional packaging and modern bingo was born.

But where does ‘bingo’ come from?

The original game used beans as tokens to mark the numbers on the card and was called ‘beano’. Legend has it that a friend of Lowe’s was so excited at winning she shouted out ‘BINGO’ instead of ‘beano’ and the name stuck.

Modern bingo – USA vs UK

The rising popularity of bingo in America soon made its way back across the Atlantic to the UK where it became a hit during the Second World War. Bingo gave people the chance to gather and socialise while having fun (and as a way of putting the hardships of war aside for a short while).

The passing of the Betting and Gambling Act 1960 saw bingo halls opening up across the UK and crowds of players vying to complete their cards and claim the prizes. These prizes could take the form of small, inexpensive items or large cash amounts.

While the basics of the game stayed the same, there are small differences between the UK and US versions, the most obvious being that the UK uses 90 balls while the US uses 75 balls and the US ‘card’ has a 5×5 grid while the UK ‘ticket’ has a 9×3 grid.

The decline of bingo

The legalisation of gambling and casinos, and the rise of technology, saw the popularity of bingo take a dip. With so many exciting and eye-catching games like slots and table games available, bingo became seen as a game for an older crowd and not nearly as glitzy and flashy as other casino games on the market.

With the evolution of online casinos, this fall in popularity became even more pronounced and many fans feared that their favourite game would soon disappear completely. In the UK, for example, the number of bingo clubs dropped from 600 in 2005 to just under 400 in 2014.

The resurgence of bingo

But online gambling and online casinos have actually helped reignite the popularity of bingo in recent years with online bingo and Live Dealer bingo becoming ever-more popular again.

While bingo is often looked on as a game that you play at bake sales and church charity dives, the fast pace, unique language, sense of urgency and spirit of competition generate a special thrill as you scour your card to try and mark off your numbers before everyone else.

The online world has just added bells and whistles and far more accessibility to it.

For anyone who has played the Lotto or a game of Keno or even that Grande Dame of casino games – roulette – a round of bingo will feel like a familiar friend and more and more players are realising this.

Funnily enough, even a video version of bingo gives players a sense of a social game way bigger than any other out there.

The lingo of bingo

Just like any good gambling game, bingo has a unique language associated with it. Just like poker players have antes and pots and river cards, bingo has developed a very specialised language all of its own that relates to how the numbers are called out.

This language deserves an article of its own but it’s fair to say that the way the numbers are called can be pretty darn funny. The US and UK versions (and localised versions across the world) are literally worlds apart and have a local flavour that is influenced by culture and slang to come up with some incredible names.

In the UK, for example, the number 22 is called two ducks because the number 2 looks like a little duck swimming. The number 8 is called as ‘garden gate’ because it rhymes with eight (a throwback to Cockney rhyming slang). The social aspect and close-knit atmosphere of bingo often has the players responding to the numbers with interactions of their own, like wolf whistling when ‘Legs Eleven’ (number 11 and the fact it looks like two legs) is called.

The future of bingo

With online casinos now offering a marriage between bingo and tech, and bingo within a social and land-based casino environment once again gaining momentum, we are seeing some amazing developments and innovation in the game. Live bingo often incorporates extra elements like wheels of fortune or audience participation in fun side-games alongside the actual game itself.

There are also tons of new versions of bingo being formed all the time: speed bingo, shotgun bingo, U-Pick’em bingo (very similar to Keno) and more.

Slingo is a challenging mash-up between slots and bingo that you can find at most good online casinos.

Venues (other than retirement homes and bingo halls) are embracing bingo as part of game nights and pub quizzes. And the growing popularity of Live Dealer online casino games is seeing bingo becoming hi-tech and a huge drawcard for online gamblers.

And that’s a ‘bingo’ from the CasinoPlay crew

There’s a reason that bingo has been around for so long: it’s an awesome and fun gambling game. Whether you’re doing it for charity, as part of a pub game or as a real-money-at-stake casino choice, bingo has a very special place in the gambling world – one that is fast rising through the ranks again, and deservedly so.

It’s no longer a purple-rinse and rollers, wheelchairs and walkers crowd that are grabbing their cards and getting ready to shout out ‘Bingo!’, it’s a hip and happening crowd that are looking for a good time.