History of Bingo

Many different variations of bingo have been played all over the world under many different names. In the history of bingo, The game was spawned from lottery games played as far back as the Roman times. Usually this game was used in wealthy households as a fun activity at parties. Every guest will receive a ticket and be assured of receiving a prize. History mentions that Augustus Cesar promoted the sale of tickets so that the lottery became a profitable business in Rome. The proceeds from these games funded important repairs in Rome. The game “Keno” was also very popular in China using characters instead of numbers; legends tell that during the Han dynasty profits from lottery games were used to fund building the Great Wall of China.


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lottery origins

Throughout bingo history ‘national lotteries’ have been vastly popular. A Venetian chronicler in 1522 wrote in his diary about how the citizens of Rialto (a district in Venice) seemed fascinated by this “new method of commerce” and about how a second-hand clothes dealer by the name of Geronimo Bambarara offered carpets and small money prizes to winners. By charging players an entry fee of 20 Soldi (shortly after raising this fee to a whole Ducat) and due to its strong following Geronimo could afford to offer prizes of up to 1,500 Ducats to winners. City authorities actioned to suppress these draws and took this lucrative business for themselves. The Venetian Republic held larger draws with bigger prizes (money, real estate and even government offices with rights to collect taxes and tolls). The games continued to bring in a fantastic profit for the Venetian government. The way bingo was played was very different in Venetian times; a player wrote his/her name (or a personal motto) on a slip of paper and placed it into a communal urn with all the other ‘tickets’. A second urn held slips saying either “pacientia” (patience) which meant you had lost or “precio” (prize) which meant you had won a prize and the ticket would detail the prize you have won.

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The Italian and French phases of the history of bingo

In 1530, the Italian national lottery (Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia) was organised in Florence. This provided a great source of income for the Italian government and still is an indispensable asset to the government budget. Due to its massive success in Italy the game spread to many countries including France. In 1774 the government in France organised the first French national lottery (la Loterie de l’école Militaire). The proceeds from these games funded many building ventures in France such as the “Champ de Mars” (Field of Mars, named after Mars the god of war) which was originally used for military drills. Proceeds also funded the “Brienne-le-Château” a military school in which, many years later the world famous political and military leader Napoléon Bonaparte would study. In 1776 Louis XVI abolished the French National Lottery and replaced it with the Royal National Lottery with the soul purpose that the proceeds would fund war and other investments benefiting the monarchy. The French government again suppressed lotto games in 1791 to re-instate them in 1797 under the name “loterie nationale de France” (the French national lottery).

Over many years the bingo game became easier to understand and more interesting for players. The new game called ‘le loto’ was being played on dedicated cards with numbers from 1 to 90. The card was divided into 9 vertical columns and 3 horizontal lines (much like modern-day bingo 90 cards) each row had 5 numbered squares and 4 blank ones set out at random. The role of the host was to pull numbered chips (made from wood or clay) out of a bag and call them out to players. This version was taken all over the world and was again changed to fit the times.

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In the 1800’s after the game had captured the imaginations of many entrepreneurs the game was orientated into a more educational setting. In Germany around the 1850’s variations of lotto games were used to teach children their multiplication tables and evidence of this can still be found in schools all over the world today. Many other ‘educational Lotto games’ were created over time such as ‘animal lotto’ where children are given a board with the pictures of animals and the task was to place the correct pieces on top of the corresponding square. Another example of the lotto being used in an educational setting is ‘spelling lotto’ where children are given a board with pictures of items with the goal being to spell the name of the item. Educational lotto games are still used in the school curriculum to help children learn multiplication and spelling.

The birth of Bingo

In the 1920’s a toy salesman from New York by the name of Edwin S. Lowe was travelling to Jacksonville (Georgia) to arrange business appointments. On his travels he decided to stop at a country carnival to lift his spirits. When Lowe arrived, the carnival was coming to a close and only one booth was still open. Lowe approached the busy booth to find out what all the excitement was about, he found a game called ‘Beano’ being played on a horseshoe shaped table packed with customers pouring over numbered cards and holding small beans. The customers sat, listening intently to the numbers on small wooden discs that the booth owner was pulling individually out of a cigar box. Lowe attempted to find a seat and immerse himself into the game but it seemed none of the other customers wanted to leave; they all looked completely hooked and glued to their seats. The booth owner was trying to bring his game to a close and by 3:00 am he had to chase the players away. After the game closed Lowe found out that the booth owner had picked up the lotto game in Germany and had adapted it into a game that could be enjoyed at a carnival then renamed it Beano.

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When Edwin S. Lowe returned to New York Lowe thought he would re-create Beano at home so he invited some of his close friends to his apartment and set up his first game. As the game went on the tension mounted and as one of his friends came closer to winning she became extremely exited. When her winning number was called she leaped from her seat and shouted “bingo” instead of shouting beano. By complete accident Lowe’s friend had shaped the name that was going to make his game a huge success. The game went onto the American market with two variations: a twelve card set for one dollar, or a twenty four card set for two dollars. Bingo was a massive success and as the game became more popular many entrepreneurs began their own versions of the game. Graciously, Lowe only asked for one dollar a year for the name ‘bingo’ to be used. A few years later Lowe was introduced to the fundraising capabilities of bingo when a parishioner asked if he could use the game to raise funds for his church.

Soon after Lowe became aware that each game produced around half a dozen winners and to make the game more profitable he needed to develop larger number combinations for games. With this idea he approached Mr Carl Leffer (a mathematics professor at Columbia University) who agreed to create 6,000 new combinations. Professor Leffer soon realised that the more combinations he created, the harder it was to make new ones and some of the more difficult combinations cost Lowe up to $100. Once the new combinations were created and put into circulation the bingo business soared. People began to approach Lowe in great numbers with the hope of developing their own games and bingo halls began to sprout up in all walks of American culture including churches.

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History of bingo: the 20th century rapid expansion

During the 20th century bingo spanned across the United States and by the 1960’s had settled into the United Kingdom. The Gaming Act of 1968 gave an opening in the regulations of gaming and gambling that allowed bingo to become a major fixture in Britain. The act stated that gaming was only allowed in public places unless authorised as an exception and that the income of gaming was to be regulated also. This allowed clubs and halls to play bingo for money. Britain began to capitalise on these new regulations and acquisitioned dedicated bingo halls across the country to capitalise on the games increasing popularity. As the entertainment business decreased, cinemas and theatres were sold off at incredibly low prices. Many of these cinemas, theatres and dancehalls were purchased and refurbished as bingo halls. Some cinemas were also transformed into a hybrid of the two incorporating the bingo business and the cinema business under one roof.

After bingo in Britain became more popular, more money was put back into the technology of the game. Instead of paper numbers being drawn from a hat, a glass cabinet was used with a blower underneath to make the draw more random. Years after this the random number generator was introduced. British citizens from all over and from all walks of life flocked in huge numbers to be part of the bingo experience. By the 1980’s bingo was established as one of the ‘social favourites’ in the UK and due to the popular demand many new binbgo halls were built and chains began to form. Bingo chains formed across the UK like Mecca, Gala and Top Rank as well as many regional chains holding their own up and down the country. Some chains are still seen today, Gala is one of the largest operators of bingo halls in the UK.


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Bingo History: From bingo halls to online bingo

With the launch of the internet, bingo found a new way to reach its clientele. In 1996 one of the first online bingo sites was launched running under the name of “Bingo Zone”, this site was a free site but asked players to give demographic information in return providing players with targeted advertisements specific to their needs. Another early bingo site was “Bingo Blitz” which was launched in 1998 by a company called “uproar” (at the time uproar was the leader in online “game shows”). David Becker, the president of uproar stated "Game shows are the new hot property on the web and nothing is simpler to play than Bingo” and due to bingo’s massive demographic in today’s market he was not far wrong.

Online bingo has been generating a huge following for years and many online entrepreneurs have dipped their hands into its pool of custom building sites of their own and pulling in the “punters”. Between 2005 and 2008 the number of online bingo sites jumped dramatically from around 17 to 243 and is still growing with new sites going “live” every few months. During its transition to the online market, bingo shrugged off its stereotype of being only for the ‘older generation’ and began to make the game attractive for people of all ages. Online bingo is still growing and changing, the game it still in its infant stage and we are still to see its ‘golden age’. The history of bingo has been very colourful so far and we beleive that bingo history will still continue evolving and growing.

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