A Brief History of Bingo

9 June 2018

Bingo is a game beloved by million the world over.  Whereas today it is fairly straightforward to find the best bingo sites to win on at the click of a mouse, in earlier times it wasn’t so easy.  For many years the game seems to have been restricted to traveling carnivals so only played at certain times of the year – when the carnival came to town, effectively. So, where did the game originate, what led to its massive popularity today and what is the secret of its success?

The game probably began in Italy during the renaissance.  So Da Vinci and Michelangelo may well have played this game – known then - and today - as Il Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia.  It has been going on ever since and is vital to the country’s economy.  It may well be the longest ongoing game in the world!

From there the game went to France, also under the name of Le Lotto but becoming something which might be familiar to our modern eyes – it consisted of three horizontal and nine vertical rows with 5 random number arranged on blank squared.  Numbers would be pulled from a bag and read out and the first person to cover a horizontal row would win the prize.  Sound familiar?

Of course, like many ancient games, Bingo found a new lease of life in the USA where it was first known as Beano in the 1920s.  Rules were created and standardized, with a book published in 1933 which led to the mass popularity of the game across the USA – and it soon spread over to the UK too.  By the 1940s the game was widespread across both countries.

We’re not quite sure where the modern name bingo comes from.  The most popular legend is that a player, excited at being the winner, called out bingo instead of the traditional beano.  It stuck.  One can imagine the second, then the third, then the fourth winner using the new, funnier word and before long the original name had been lost to history.  Bingo halls popped up everywhere and groups of friends would enjoy nights out, chatting and playing.  The carnival had come to town but this time it was staying...

Then came the internet and everything changed, even if it wasn’t exactly in the blink of an eye.  The very first online bingo site was launched in 1996.  The regular balls have gone and in their place numbers are randomly generated.  Apart from that the game remains effectively the same.  Even the social aspect is retained – virtually!  Most online games have a chat feature so you can talk to friends as you play and share the excitement.

And the secret of its success today?  In the UK, for example, it is defined by law as “a lottery played as a game”.  As people are given a random set of numbers it means that each participant has an equal chance of winning.  So bingo has been able to sidestep some of the more punitive laws around online games of chance, allowing it to thrive.  So, the chances are that somewhere in the world, someone is shouting “bingo!” at the top of their voice at this very moment.

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