Ever since its origins in Italy in the 16th century Bingo has been captivating new audiences and finding ever more exotic and unusual outlets – from 18th century German schoolrooms to its popular boom in the American jazz age. But through all of that time the basic cards and numbers format has remained. It is one of those formulas that continues to stand the test of time.
Its launch into the mainstream was the result of an entrepreneurial push by an American toy salesman called Edwin Lowe. Seeing a home-made version of the game played at a country fair Lowe had the genius to mass produce game cards and the rest as they say is history.
In fact, Lowe is the man responsible for the name ‘bingo’. The game he saw was called beano (beans were used to mark off numbers) but when someone called out ‘bingo’ by mistake Lowe instantly recognised his own winning formula. Lowe’s company went on to become a multimillion dollar concern in the US, whilst in Europe ‘housey housey’ as the Victorians called it, continued as a less commercial pastime.
The game first appeared online in 1996 since when it has gone from strength to strength. The online bingo industry is now reckoned to be worth more than $1 billion a year – and still growing! Online bingo games from winner.com, BGO, William Hill bingo and others retain the simple charm of the original formula, but they are able to do so in a way that makes the game attractive and engaging to a whole new generation. Games are themed around topical motifs and iconic cultural figures, bringing a touch of showbiz glamour and romance to the basic numbers that are the raw material of the game itself.
Since advertising online bingo was legalised in 2005 hundreds of alternative online bingo sites have started competing for players’ attention – proof itself of the popularity of the game. One estimate puts the number at 359 although that is a far from scientific measure.
The rise in online bingo is coming at a cost for the more established bingo halls which are more and more looking like an idea whose time is running out. The convenience of being able to play from home – or even on the go – is proving irresistible for time-conscious players – the majority of whom are women. The High Street giant Mecca now derive over 20% of their business from their Mecca Bingo website, which is just as well as attendances at their halls – which have also been hit hard by the smoking ban in 2007 – look to be in a serious state of decline.
For all the change in the way it is being delivered it does appear that bingo itself is not about to disappear any time soon. Not only is it offered by specialist sites, it is also a staple feature of many more ‘macho’ betting and gaming sites.
The enduring appeal of the game is its simplicity. And whilst there are different versions in play, the basic numbers and cards formula looks tailor made to make the move into the digital age. Bingo’s future looks every bit as bright as its already glittering history.