The history of Bingo

    The history of bingo is quite a long story! If you thought bingo magically materialised at the seaside sometime in the 1960s, then you are wrong. According to headlines in the press at the time, this is precisely what happened, with Eric Morley of Mecca Bingo, stating 'I Invented Bingo'. Other headlines included 'Woman's Bingo Bonanza', and 'Wife's bingo led to divorce'.

    So where did the real history of bingo begin?

    Such headlines led to the belief that commercial bingo and female gamblers were a dangerous and new phenomena. However, there is a long history of random number games, stretching back many centuries.

    Lottery in the 1500s

    The earliest lottery in Britain took place some time in the reign of Elizabeth I, and was played by rich people only. However, gambling was popular across all classes, with even the poorest people playing 'shove-a-goat-with-a-groat' in the local tavern.

    The game was also played in Italy, as early as the 1500s. It spread to France and Germany where it became known as Le Lotto, a favourite of the French aristocracy. The Germans harnessed its powers, and turned it into a learning tool, teaching children numbers, multiplication tables, history, numbers, and animals.

    A version made it across the Atlantic to America, where it was played in carnivals and fairs, except players shouted BEANO instead of BINGO. In 1929, a travelling toy salesman called Edwin Lowe visited an Atlanta carnival, and saw the game in action. He saw how mesmerised players were, with many staying in their seats until 3 AM, when the carnival closed.

    Bingo born by accident?

    Edwin then introduced the game to his friends. It was during this time he heard a player accidentally yell BINGO, instead of BEANO, and the modern game was born. Edwin saw the potential, and started to produce a commercial version. By the 1940s, the game had spread across America, and was soon adopted by Catholic churches, who employed it as a fundraising method.

    But there was a problem. Because there were so few cards, during large games, there were sometimes more than half a dozen winners. To avoid this problem, Edwin sought the services of a professor of mathematics from Columbia University. He asked the professor to devise 6000 new cards, with non-repeating numbers.

    As the poor professor worked on, each card became progressively more difficult. Impatient Lowe paid him per card, and by the end, the price had risen to $100 per ticket. However, the professor eventually went insane, but at least Edwin had his cards.

    The history of bingo

    Bingo clubs legalised in the UK

    In the United Kingdom, the 1960s Betting and Gaming Act legalised existing social gaming, which meant the formation of bingo clubs. Many of the clubs were housed in old cinemas, which had seen audience numbers decline after the advent of television. They were only too happy to have the space filled by a gaggle of gambling ladies, all keen on marking off that hallowed full house.

    Bingo halls opened in every town and no seaside promenade was complete without at least one kiosk where players could shelter from the wind and mark off the numbers.

    Bingo in the UK became a phenomenal success story, employing hundreds, and bringing pleasure to millions of females, who would visit clubs on a regular basis, not just to win cash, but for the vibrant social life that accompanied the game.

    Bingo stayed incredibly popular, until the late 1990s, until a smoking ban and the recession deterred players from visiting their favourite venues.

    Online bingo takes the world by storm

    But bingo is still alive and kicking, in the online version at least. Digital technology, fast computers and fast internet, means that players can choose from hundreds of sites from the comfort of their own home.

    And in 2012, bingo went mobile, thanks to the popularity of smartphones. Have you tried mobile bingo yet? It really is quite something.

    It looks like bingo is here to stay for good, the only question is, how will it evolve next? I for one can't wait to play hologram bingo on board a space ship, with a robot caller.


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