When it comes to the history of Bingo there are two more prominent versions. One history from the US and the other from the UK; as UK history goes back a great deal further than any US history we tend to err more on the side of the British version.
According to the US History version, bingo was first seen in its most familiar form in Italy after the reunification circa.1530. This was a lotto-styled game and it is still played today in Italy nearly 500 years later. "Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia" matured and was absorbed into European culture, travelling to France and Germany – even being used as a teaching aid along the way, it is still used for teaching today; but somehow according to US history it didn’t quite make the brief hop, skip and jump over the British Channel. We don’t actually see how this could be so?
Bingo apparently landed up thousands of miles from Europe and Britain in the US and in 1929 – Beano (as it was called) was being played at an Atlanta Carnival, when Edwin Lowe a travelling toy salesman picked up on how popular it was. To cut a long story short, Beano was in the public domain so could not be copyrighted, but he took the idea back home to New York anyway and worked with it. Playing the game with his friends, he found they loved it and legend has it that one friend being so excited on winning, stood up and shouted "BINGO" instead of Beano. Lowe was enchanted with the idea of calling the game bingo and apparently this is how the name stuck. However, this tale could also be debatable.
What is not up for debate is that the game became wildly popular and he sold his version of bingo on a type of license basis. Despite a great deal of competition, his customers paid a dollar a year for the use of the name and to be able offer the game. He commissioned a math professor to calculate multiple number combinations for more cards, the Roman Catholic Church requested use of Bingo for fund raising and so the game spread.
Bingo was introduced to the UK in is commercial form by Eric Morley of Miss World Pageant and Mecca Bingo fame – in fact he dared to say that he "invented" bingo. Interestingly UK players favour a 90 ball version of the game over the US 75 ball variety and UK history paints a very different picture of bingo from its beginnings.
During Elizabethan times (1558-1603) and during the Reign of Queen Anne (1710) there were popular lotteries played. These were aimed at wealthy people, but shares in tickets were sold, much like syndicated lottery lines today. There is a long tradition of lottery-type or random number games being played in the UK. Working class people, servants, slum dwellers and in particular women, organised penny lotteries and numbers clubs games amongst themselves for hundreds of years prior to the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, which allowed people such as Morley to offer commercial bingo. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK played Housey- housey, lotto or tombola, all of which were as close to bingo as it gets. In fact the Australians still call bingo "housey" and my Nana in Yorkshire also does.
Back in 1808 it was estimated that as much as half a million pounds sterling was spent by the working classes on illegal numbers games. The stakes were small the returns were good and the volumes were significant; much like bingo today.
Even in Mexico circa.1838, archaeologist John Stephens found a very similar game to bingo being played by hundreds of people. This same game was played all over Europe and also in Malta where the British Navy was stationed from 1814; it seems highly likely that it was also brought back to England. In fact by 1914 a game with numbers from 1 – 90 was completely established in the British military throughout all ranks.
Commercial bingo was already being played throughout Britain in the 1920’s to late 1930’s even though it was illegal. Police in Peckham in particular were concerned about the spread of the game. At this point the police were recorded as calling it "bingo" so it seems odd that Louw coined the name in 1929 when people in suburban Peckham may have been already calling it "BINGO". At that time bingo had not been featured in any US films and this would have been the only way a popular culture name would have reached the working class people of Peckham; a highly unlikely scenario. This therefore also gives rise to doubt regarding the etymology of the Edwin Lowe claim to the name.
We have already discussed that the US has a preference for playing 75 ball – pattern bingo, while UK player prefers a 90 ball version. The cards are different; where 75 ball calls uses a 5 x 5 grid and 90 uses a 3 x 9 grid card. That is about as far as it goes in terms of variations of cards; all other variations are tweaked versions of standard playing or prize rules.
For example, UK 90 ball bingo offers a prize pool in a three prize split – 1 Line, 2 Lines and Full House. In Spanish bingo where the same card and number of ball calls apply they offer a two prize split, 1 Line and the Full house. In Scandinavian bingo a similar card to 75 ball bingo is used, but 1 – 90 numbers are called, this offers a 1 Line, 2 Line, 3 Line, 4 Line and Full House prize split; there are also other variations. In 75 ball bingo, the most popular prize is the full house only on either a pattern or coverall being completed. 80 ball or shutterboard/seaside bingo is much the same, while 30 ball or speed bingo only uses four corners of the grid.
Bingo prizes are more often than not determined by the amount of players in the game, where a percentage of each card purchase forms the basis of the prize pool. However, there are a number of variations on this theme also. Most coverall games also feature large prizes, so winnings are often governed by rules which state that the game must be won within a certain amount of calls. Therefore a minimum prize is fixed and guaranteed, while any other winnings are structured on a sliding scale – example 1 – 35 calls the full pr35 calls the full prize, 36 – 40 calls ¾ of the prize, 41 – 48 calls ½ of the prize and so on. Prizes may also be seeded with cash or players may win tangible items, which makes bingo so perfect for fund raising purposes.
Bingo is Soft Gambling – Perfect for Charitable Works
Because offering a prize of a home-made cake, a shopping voucher and a free do in the local hairdressers (for example) at a church fete; in return for 100 ladies paying 50p per bingo ticket over a session of three games, can raise a good deal of money for the new church roof or widows and orphans fund. Traditionally bingo has been and is still widely used as a highly successful game to raise money for charity. Players don’t feel as though they are gambling, no-one finds it offensive or vulgar, everyone understands the game, has a good time and it raises a great deal of money all over the world.
A prime example would be every October in the UK, where the entire bingo community mobilizes in playing it pink for the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. This is only one of the many fund raising activities favoured by bingo operators, and most bingo operators have their own pet charities. However, as breast cancer is a women’s issue, you can guarantee that all bingo business get involved at this time to some degree.
Conclusion – Bingo is Good For You
One thing is certain, there is a great deal more to bingo than meets the eye, it goes deeper than some people might suppose and is played more popularly than others might imagine! One thing that should always be remembered is that bingo is great fun to play – keep it that way; it is about having a laugh! It has proven to be a fabulous social activity for the aged and the lonely and can keep the mind active – so, it is pretty much an all round do-gooder. Demographics are changing, it is becoming more popularly played if in a different way, and bingo has an uncanny ability to be useful as well as reincarnate itself with a little help. We recon that bingo will still be around, long after we have all gone and it will still be doing more good than harm!