How bingo became one of Britain's most loved games
Although it has struggled to keep up with the times, bingo remains an incredibly well loved pastime in the UK...
09:50 26 August 2016
Although it has struggled to keep up with the times, bingo remains an incredibly well loved pastime in the UK, and is still considered an integral part of the national character. This is all the more impressive when you consider that Bingo originated in mainland Europe and came to Britain in its present form via the United States. The game's British heyday was during the 1960s, before a range of factors led to a dramatic decline in the number of players and clubs. Recently that decline has been halted, thanks in large part to the internet as well as the enthusiasm of a new generation of players.
The origins of bingo
Bingo first appeared as a lottery game in Italy in the 16th century. From there it spread to France, where it became known as Le Lotto. Spain and Germany also developed their own variations, and it was soon picked up by the British army and navy, who called the game "housey housey" and "tombola" respectively. Underground lottery games soon became a common feature of British working class life.
The modern game actually has its roots in the United States at the start of the 20th century, where it was played with lines of beans placed on a grid as the numbers were called. A full house was signalled with a cry of "beano!" which also became the game's name. Legend has it that when one excited player accidentally shouted "bingo!" instead of "beano!" the new name stuck. A commercial variant was developed by toymaker Edwin Lowe in the 1920s, and this spread back to Britain, where the first licensed bingo halls appeared in 1961.
Rise and fall
Bingo took off in the sixties as a way for cinemas and dance halls to attract clientele, with films and traditional dancing losing their audiences to television and pop music respectively. They were as much social centres as gambling houses, where working-class and/or older women felt safe on a night out.
The game began to decline in the 1980s due to changing fashions, and was hit hard by the arrival of the National Lottery in 1994. The 2007 smoking ban had an even more devastating effect on the clubs, as up to 60% of bingo players smoked. When they were unable to do so it became easier for them to stay at home with a scratch card or watch the lottery on TV.
Bingo's revival is largely driven by the internet revolution. Online bingo frequently includes chatrooms alongside the game itself, replicating the social atmosphere of a traditional club. Indeed, many feel that playing online at sites like 888 Ladies is more fun than going to a real-life bingo hall, where the atmosphere can be rather staid and serious.
New variations of bingo designed to appeal to a younger audience are also taking off in the UK's trendy hotspots, where the camp nature of the game and often risqué banter are all part of the appeal. It seems that just when bingo seemed to be on a terminal losing streak its luck has changed for the better, and full houses may be just around the corner once again.