Half a century ago bingo was Britain’s most popular pastime, welcoming more avid fans through its doors every weekend than the entirety of the Football League combined. However, just 15 years ago it looked likely that Britain’s much loved game would fade off into obscurity.
Fortunately for bingo lovers up and down the country that wasn’t the case, in fact the game is now going from strength to strength and growing in popularity once more, not just here in Britain, but all across the world.
Read on to find out how Britain fell in love with bingo again and how that kickstarted a global renaissance for the classic game.
A Brief History of Bingo in Britain
Believe it or not, bingo, the game so synonymous with Britain was actually imported from France and Italy two centuries ago. Originally the game was played by upper- and middle-class people as a way of raising money for charity, as gambling was illegal at the time.
In 1960 the Labour government led by Harold Macmillan passed the Betting and Gaming Act which legalised a raft of gambling activities and categorised bingo as a legal gambling activity. Within a few short years of the passing of the act UK Bingo club membership reached a staggering 14 million which marked the beginning of the Golden Age for the game.
Over the course of the next four decades bingo cemented itself as a staple of British life with bingo halls forming a focal point in most cities and towns across the country.
However, by the turn of the Millennium a crisis was building in the British bingo industry; a failure to modernise and update had alienated younger generations.
As such the industry was reliant on a loyal but ageing player base. In 2007 a major blow was struck to that player base when the government passed the smoking ban, making it illegal to smoke inside any public building.
Over 63% of bingo players at the time were regular smokers and the ban directly impacted their playing patterns, forcing them to spend more time outside smoking than playing or in some cases, putting them off visiting bingo halls altogether.
Almost every major bingo provider in the country was impacted by the ban with most closing up to 50% of their venues. Bingo in Britain appeared to be going the same way as the Dodo in Madagascar, until…
The smoking ban was catastrophic for the British bingo industry.
Whilst land-based bingo companies were busy catastrophising and preparing for their impending doom a small group of savvy entrepreneurs were exploring bingo’s next steps. Pioneering companies like Wink Bingo were set up as online providers with the aim of reviving the game and making it appealing to a younger demographic of player.
Initially, industry experts were sceptical about bingo’s move online, suspecting that players would not be technologically savvy enough to come to grips with playing on their computer. Fortunately for the game those worries were unfounded with many players easily adapting to playing online.
In addition to this uptake amongst existing players, tens of thousands of younger players were introduced to bingo through online providers. This resulted in a resurgence of bingo in the UK with active player numbers surpassing 1 million for the first time in two decades in 2017.
Why Is Bingo Loved?
To understand why bingo is so well loved in the UK and further afield it’s important to remember that it is like no other gambling activity. Players very rarely play to get rich and even though things can become heated, no one plays for competitive reasons.
Bingo feels more like a social event than a gambling activity to most players, and that’s even true online. Chat rooms on online bingo sites are always busy with friends and players interacting with one another as the action plays out in front of them.
In addition to the game’s social aspect, another reason that people love bingo is because of its simplicity and inclusivity. Everything you need to know about the game can be explained to you in a couple of minutes or condensed into a few short paragraphs.
There are no barriers to play as with other popular gambling activities like poker, baccarat and roulette. Bingo’s simplicity is what makes it so special and allows it to be enjoyed by old and young alike.
Bingo’s Global Growth
Whilst Britain has always been thought of as the spiritual home of bingo, the game has been played all around the world for decades. However, the growth of the online sector has boosted the popularity of the game even more overseas.
Countries like Brazil, Romania and Spain all have thriving bingo communities that have been boosted by the appeal of the online sector in recent years. Whilst the basic premise of the game remains the same, every country often adds its own unique spin to bingo.
In Australia for example the game is called ‘Housie’, uses 75 balls and instead of callers calling out the numbers they used the letters B,I,N,G,O to identify the columns. For example, O-17 would be in the last column.
In Japan the game is played more like a lottery and in Italy it takes on more of a Tombola style, with physical prizes on offer rather than cash incentives. If you’re travelling aboard and intend on playing bingo, make sure you find out how the rules differ before you buy your cards.
In Australia winners shout ‘HOUSIE’ rather than ‘BINGO’.
Whilst the online bingo industry may be experiencing great growth at the moment, one downside that the sector has its lack of ‘authenticity’. To a lot of people, playing online simply does not measure up to the experience of going down to the bingo hall with their friends for an evening of fun.
Currently a number of online bingo providers are investing huge sums of money into the research and development of AR and VR technology. If everything goes to plan these new technologies will help to add more of a ‘real feel’ to online bingo and draw in even more players.
Whatever happens in the next couple of years though, it’s an exciting time to be a bingo fan.