Bingo, or Housie as it is called in Australia and New Zealand, began life as long ago as the 16th century. Its roots lie in Italy
where a state run lottery game funded the nation’s coffers. That Italian lottery was a direct ancestor of the game of bingo as
we know it today. The game then spread throughout Europe where it appeared in many guises. In the late 19th century, it
was popular in Germany as an educational tool to help teach math and multiplication; it is still widely used as a teaching aid
The game really took off in the Unites States where it was used as a way of raising funds for charities. The game was originally
played with beans and was immediately called Beano in America. Bingo is a shortened version of “Bean-Go” which Americans
started calling the game.
A New York businessman saw the commercial possibilities of the game and hired a mathematician called Carl Leffler to devise
more combinations in bingo cards; Leffler invented 6,000 different cards. He is said to have then gone insane – the first of
many people to be driven to distraction by bingo.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the game came back across the Atlantic and bingo, as a pastime, took off in Britain. Eric Morley,
the man who presided over the Miss World pageant, saw bingo as way of filling the cinemas, variety theaters and dance halls
that had been left empty by the rise of television. It was Morley that reinvented bingo as a commercial concern. Morley was
greatly helped by the relaxation of Britain’s gambling laws. Strangely, bingo was never frowned upon like other forms of
gambling and was seen as an enjoyable, social hobby for everyone. Before long Eric Morley’s company, Mecca, led the bingo
Unlike the entertainments that it replaced, bingo proved a sure-fire way of filling the buildings that TV had left redundant. It
gradually became more sophisticated with Random Number Generating machines replacing the original contraptions that were
used to draw numbers: the old machines not only looked homemade, they also allowed the games to be fixed very easily.
Bingo’s unique vocabulary also took root at this stage with the, now everyday, phrases like ‘Two Fat Ladies’ becoming popular.
A Caller of the Year contest is still held annually in Britain. Today the larger bingo halls do not use the old vocabulary but it
lives on in holiday resorts and social clubs. Soon, the bingo halls themselves were modernized. No longer did they have the
atmosphere of old cinemas mourning the loss of their silver screen stars. The halls now had the feel of purpose built bingo
venues. Indeed in the 1980’s, bingo halls began to appear, the first opening in Canton in Cardiff. Many venues now offer a full
night out with people meeting up early to enjoy meals and drinks before the game starts.
Bingo seems to live outside the normal dictates of fashion and social trends. In 2004, more people went to bingo halls than
went to football matches in the UK and bingo continues to attract celebrities like Elle MacPherson and Mariah Carey. Bingo has
embraced the internet and online bingo is now a multi-million dollar business. In one way, however, bingo has stayed loyal to
its roots with a major feature of online bingo being the chat options that online bingo sites offer. Even with new technology
bingo has remained a very social game.
Like the traditional game of bingo, the U.S. led the way in the online bingo craze. But the UK now enjoys the fastest growing
online bingo market. Many players enjoy both online bingo and traditional bingo halls, although the internet has an appeal to
younger generations with 90% of online players under the age of 50.
Online bingo sites tend to offer both the traditional British 90 ball game and the U.S. 75 ball game. These sites, like many
traditional bingo halls, offer all round entertainment with slot machine and card games as well as multiple bingo rooms. Both
online and offline bingo continues to thrive. From unlikely beginnings in Italy, it has spread across the world and continues to
enthral and frustrate players today. And, with the growth of online bingo, it seems likely that bingo will continue to delight
millions for a long time to come.
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