The History of Bingo

In this article, we will discuss bingo from its conception in 1530 to the current day. Along the way, we’ll outline major events in the life of bingo that shaped it into the worldwide and much-loved game it is now.

1500s – Bingo began

1600s – Bingo became formalised

1700s – Bingo is used in German schools

1800s – Bingo crosses the Atlantic and spreads

1945 onward – Bingo halls are replicated online in virtual settings

The 1500s Bingo. Lo Giuoco Del Lotto D’Italia

Literature covering the game of bingo can be traced back to its origin in 1530. It started life as a lottery, called Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia, which, roughly translated, means “the lotto game of Italy”. Traditionally, this game was played every Sunday.

In Europe, some of the core features were favoured over others, and so a spawn of variants was seen flooding Germany and France. Structurally speaking, The Lotto Game of Italy is executed in the same way as our modern-day lottery. Players choose a set of numbers. A main set of numbers are pulled from a drum. The player who matches the most amount of numbers is the winner. From this combo of numbers and pure chance, the origins of bingo spread over to France in the 1600s, where it became commonly known as Le Lotto.

The 1700s Bingo: Le Lotto

By the late 1770s, bingo was developed into a game for the Aristocracy, called Le Lotto. It had traits of the popular lotto games likes Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia, and blended them with game cards. The format of the game card had 3 horizontal rows, 9 vertical and 5 unique numbers ranging between 1 and 90. During play, wooden chips were drawn from the drum and the player who covered a horizontal line first was the winner. This version started to resemble bingo as we know it today, but another version began to form in Germany over the 1800s.

The 1800s Bingo – Education in Germany

German academics noticed the rise in popularity of the game of bingo amongst French intellectuals and developed their own version as an educational tool in the 19th Century.

They devised a tombola-like construction. The game here being primarily used for helping children learn maths and spelling. Similar to Le Lotto, this version gave players a card game, on this card were a set of numbers and letters. Using the tombola, the caller would draw tiles from it and the first player to cover up a given number of numbers or make up a given word would be the winner. Le Lotto and the German tombola versions began to spread widely across Europe. The next major turning point for the game of bingo came thanks to Hugh Ward in the 1900s.

The 1900s Bingo: The Us Carnival Revolution

Hugh J Ward first encountered bingo during a visit to Europe. He made a note of the main structure of the game and evolved his unique version specifically for US carnivals. It was known as ‘beano’ because dried beans were used to cover up the called numbers. It operated similarly to Le Lotto, but the first player to cover-up their numbers yelled ‘beano!’. Like in the other geographies, beano spread like wild-fire but the word got bastardised somewhere along the lines and eventually, people started yelling ‘bingo’ instead. Somewhere around the 1920s this slip of the tounge stuck permanently. From here, Edwin Lowe took the baton and changed the game into a mass-market product.

Encountering beano, or bingo, at one of the carnivals just before 1930, Lowe’s colleague, Carl Leffler, a maths professor at Columbia University, teamed up with him to devise around 6,000 different card combinations. All encompassing the exact same odds of winning one single game. At this point, he copyrighted the name ‘bingo’ and so in 1930, bingo was officially born. Lowe published an official rule book for bingo around 1933 and the book standardised the game of bingo globally.

Post 1945 Bingo: The Necessity of Expansion

Post World War Two bingo. Thanks to beano being introduced to the US and the development of the game to be much more entertaining, bingo became a loved game in the US. In the mid-1930s, around 10,000 games of bingo were being played weekly. The enormous participation volume facilitated millions of dollars to be raised for charities and churches. Bingo became known as a wonderful fundraising tool.

Come the 1940s, bingo solidified itself a known revenue machine, rather than an educational tool.  As well as being entertaining, come the end of WWII in 1945 it was being used by councils as a means of boosting local morale in a recovering Britain.

The Rise and Fall of Bingo Between 1960 and 2000.

From 1960, live bingo hit a summit in the UK. Participation volumes across what was a network of one thousand bingo halls saw one million players a month and revenue rocketed. Additionally, to thriving participation rates, bingo also became a major source of employment in the UK between the 70-80s. At the height of the boom, bingo employed over 20 thousand people in the UK.

Sadly this didn’t last and participation volume slowly declined. The UK Bingo Association evidenced the number of bingo halls still active in the country had slipped below 400. So, the number of employees in this industry dropped too, to below 12,000. Luckily, this drop in bingo hall provisions happened at the same time as the surge in online bingo.

The Early Noughties to Now. the Digital Revolution of Bingo

Online digital versions of bingo started to develop in 1996. It wasn’t until iGaming became big as an industry that allowed bingo to thrive. The first platform, cyberbingo.com, launched in the UK and from here several operators joined the digital realm.

The following factor influencing the boom of online bingo came thanks to social media, particularly Facebook, in 2011. Following the launch of a series of free bingo apps, bingo was introduced to so many more people, which sparked a spike in participation from real-money players.

Today’s Bingo: The Statistics

Today, online bingo as an industry is worth an astonishing £90m a year in the UK alone and an additional $90 (about £69m) in the US. Since 2008 the participation rate rocked from 50k to over 4m. The average spent is now about £120m a month.

This is partly due to an increase in interest. Online bingo is seen as easy to access and offers amazing jackpots. With little to no skill to learn.

A recent poll showed three-quarters of players prefer online methods to play live bingo due to its simplicity. More, the increased amount of games with unique structures, like speed bingo, and various jackpot sizes, make online bingo a more fruitful venture for players. Modern players can play on a variety of devices and this variety has made the game accessible to more and more players which has increased its popularity as an online game across Europe.