The History of Bingo

The Early Days

It’s not just Pinot Grigio we have Italians to thank for! They are also inventors of our favourite pastime – bingo. Bet you weren’t expecting that! It all began in 1530 with a lottery game called Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia which was an innovative way for the government to earn public funds after the unification of Italy. That’s right bingo as we know it today is a form of lottery! The game hit it off big time and it’s still as popular today and remains indispensable to the government’s budget raking in over $75 million every year.

The game soon spread across Europe and in the 1770s the French press reported that it had become popular amongst the intelligentsia. During this time the classic 90 ball game was developed. The playing card was split into three rows and nine columns giving you 27 squares altogether with five numbered and four blanks on every row. The numbers ranged from one to 10 in the first column, 11 to 20 in the second column, 21 to 30 in the third column and so forth.

Players were given a single playing card and no two cards were the same. Once the cards had been dealt out the caller would draw a small wooden token from a cloth bag and read out the number on the token which would be anything between one and 90. If the number appeared on their card players would cover it up and the first player to cover an entire row would win.
In the 1880s educational lotto games became popular and even today it’s still used to help teach children things like spelling, history and their times tables.

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Eventually, the bingo phenomenon made it as far as the US where it was initially called ‘Beano’. So, where does the word ‘bingo’ come from? Well, legend has it that in 1926 Edwin Lowe, a New York toy salesman, stumbled across the game in a carnival in Georgia where a lucky player caught up in the moment accidentally shouted ‘Bingo!’ instead of ‘Beano!’ and the name has stuck ever since. We think ‘bingo’ has a better ring to it anyway, don’t you?

Lowe brought the game back to New York where he produced two variations of the game – one with a set of 12 playing cards for $1.00 and the other with 24 cards for $2.00. He wasn’t quite finished tweaking the game just yet.

A few months later, Lowe was approached by a priest from Pennsylvania who thought he could use bingo to raise money for his parish. However, when he put his plan into action a problem immediately arose where each game produced half a dozen or more winners.

Hearing this, Lowe realised the huge potential of the bingo. He got on board a mathematics professor called Carl Leffler to develop lots more combinations of numbers for the game to work on a large scale like this.

He was asked to come up with 6,000 different playing cards and agreed to a fee where he was paid on a per card basis but it became more and more difficult to create unique cards as the project went on. Lowe grew impatient and offered the professor $100 per card to hurry the process along. Sadly, the professor started to lose his mind but eventually, the project was completed and Lowe had his 6,000 cards.

Thanks to these new cards the priest managed to get his parish out of its financial troubles and word soon spread fast. Lowe started to get lots of requests for help setting up bingo games – much more than what he could handle so he published an instruction manual so people could do it themselves. He also created a monthly newsletter called The Blotter which was sent out to 37,000 subscribers.

By 1934 bingo had become as popular as baseball and apple pie in the US. There was a huge demand for bingo with approximately 10,000 games taking place every week. According to Lowe, the largest ever bingo game took place at New York’s Teaneck Armoury where 10 cars were given away. A whopping 60,000 players took part in the game and that’s not counting the 10,000 that were turned away at the door.

At Lowe’s toy company, a team of 1,000 employees worked frantically to try to keep up with the demand. The office space covered nine floors and they had 64 presses printing 24 hours a day.

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Eyes Down in the Trenches

During the First World War, bingo or ‘housey-housey’ as it was called at that point was a popular game among British soldiers and when they returned from the battlefield they wanted to play bingo at home for fun and prizes which were sometimes food as it was rationed back then. But there was a big problem with that commercial bingo was illegal back in those days so if they were caught they faced prosecution. The game also continued to be a big attraction at carnivals and charity fundraising events organised by the church during this time.

As the popularity of the game grew in the UK it was increasingly called ‘bingo’. By the 1950s it had become part of the entertainment at holiday camps such as Butlins where it’s still played today.

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The Explosion of Commercial Bingo

Eventually, commercial bingo was legalised in 1960 and bingo halls opened up across the country which soon became the hub of the community. With glamorous prizes and celebrity callers such as Cilla Black, these became increasingly popular.

Soon big old cinemas were converted into bingo halls by companies such as Mecca which has become one of the biggest brand names in the industry. The bingo halls offered refreshments and live entertainment as well as the thrill of having the chance to scoop up a massive jackpot prize – it’s no wonder that they were packed out night after night!

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Online Bingo

Online bingo exploded onto the scene in 1996 and its popularity has been growing ever since. was the first ever bingo site to launch on the web and it’s still around today – in a highly competitive market this is considered a huge achievement.

The simplicity of bingo meant that it could easily be adapted into digital format – and it works. The biggest selling point of online bingo is that it’s convenient – you can play it whenever you want without having to leave the comfort of your own home. You don’t miss out on the atmosphere of the traditional bingo hall either because you can have lots of fun and meet new friends in the chat rooms.

Nowadays you will find everything from no deposit required offers to websites that allow you to start playing instantly without any card details. So the game has become cheaper, and even free if you want it to be.

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Future of Bingo

So, that’s the history of bingo but what’s in store for it next? With technology rapidly evolving, the world of online bingo is growing by the day. Mobile bingo is set to become massive and most bingo sites are now mobile optimised so you can play on the go. What’s more, the variety of games on offer is constantly increasing as well as the quality.

As you can see bingo has a long history and it’s here to stay!