Nothing could be further away from the stereotypical hardcore gambling scenario than bingo: You don’t tend to see bingo addicts sneaking of on illicit work breaks, pretending to nip out for a cigarette whilst furiously tapping away on their iPad trying to get that next three line win.
Whilst that paints a rather frenetic image, it’s also quite a common reality – except you won’t find these types of players in online bingo rooms whilst they’re making time each day to get their gaming fix, and there are a number of reasons why:
Firstly, bingo has the wonderful advantage of not being perceived as cool: Despite successfully re-branding the game to appeal to a younger demographic than the traditional blue rinse set, it’s still viewed as a harmless way to spend an afternoon or evening. True gambling is cool for the same reason that jumping over a bus on a dirt bike with a cigarette in your mouth whilst sending a text is cool: It’s got an element of danger to it.
For bingo to have a measurable element of danger it would need to consistently produce players that lose their life savings and end up on life’s scrapheap because of their compulsive need to play – and that’s not something that seems to happen.
In part, this is down to the way that the game is presented: Casino games like slots and roulette are often laid out in a highly lascivious manner, with pictures of glamorous croupiers and comforting, seductive background noises to make you feel as though you’re in an alternative reality where nothing else matters as long as you’re on the gaming floor, be it virtual or real.
Bingo, on the other hand, comes with none of this: The chat hosts and callers won’t look or talk like Hollywood glamour heroes on their day off, and the themes used in bingo lobbies and rooms are far more down to earth, too.
Whilst the look and feel of bingo could still, potentially, disguise a fiendishly-clever psychological plot to turn you into a bulging-eyed obsessive shovelling every spare penny you earn into buying tickets, it’s actually missing the visual and aural stimuli that genuinely dangerous games serve up to encourage their players into spending more. The fixed odds betting terminals in most UK bookmaker branches are the best example of such games: Every light, sound effect and gameplay element on these machines has been carefully orchestrated by experts using decades of experience working with slot gamers to extract as much from your wallet as is humanly possible. In bingo, however, you get a strip of tickets, a number grid and a chat panel: The format doesn’t really change and there’s no mind-control going on.
Bingo also keeps its nose clean by remaining so wonderfully simple. Despite recent advancements like 30 ball games, the concept is as uncluttered as it’s always been: You buy a ticket and mark numbers off when balls are drawn, and that’s pretty much it – which means there’s no scope for coming up with so-called winning systems. Whilst every casino game imaginable will always be weighted slightly in favour of the house, players of table and slot games will still manage to convince each other that there’s a magic system that will beat the odds. Even roulette - one of the simplest casino games of the lot – attracts an army of players who claim to be playing a system which means they can’t lose. As long as there’s enough complexity in any game to let peddlers of these systems dream up reasons as to why you can beat the casino and never have to work again, people will play them to try and win life-changing amounts of cash. What they ought to be doing, of course, is viewing their games as a bit of entertainment that may bring them some winnings to add to the fun they’ve had at the tables.
And all of the above is what regular bingo players have either consciously or sub-consciously known for years - which is why your granny will warn you away from drugs, unsuitable partners and payday loans – but she’ll never steer you away from bingo.
Is it gambling? Of course it is, but then so is putting 50p down at your local funfair to try and win a goldfish. Is a vodka cocktail fishbowl an alcoholic drink? Again, yes: But so is half a lager shandy, and people have to be allowed to use their own common sense.
Living in a responsible, libertarian society isn’t just about stopping people from doing silly things: It’s about giving them right to enjoy themselves, and the exponential growth of bingo – both on and offline –in the UK without any significant problems shows that the vast majority of people are more than capable of doing exactly that.