Bingo is an internationally accepted game, this means it is popularly played all over the world with an estimated 60 million fans playing. The fastest growing market in this industry by far is online bingo. Since the birth of online bingo, back in 1996, one of the earliest known websites, was a free bingo site knows as "Bingo Zone". The first pay for play site we believe was Cyber Bingo, however Interbingo also has a history dating back to round about that time – both at the time were US websites. US online bingo was the first crop of these sites, only followed by pay for play sites in the UK early in the new millennium.
It took till the early 2000’s for the concept of the internet as a general tool for all to catch fire, and when this happened there was no stopping online gaming. Since the launch of the first UK bingo sites, the growth in the popularity of playing this game has also grown exponentially. Prior to 2006, the US online bingo market was showing a great deal of potential; however they received a very short, sharp and unexpected comeuppance with the promulgation of UIGEA.
The US, UIGEA and Online Bingo
UIGEA is the acronym for the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act". At the time it was viewed as a part of the Safe Port Act which was promulgated on the 30th September, 2006. We now see that it is also linked to a defunct Wire Act of 1961, but the general consensus is that UIGEA was "snuck" into law – we know it happened virtually overnight and it appears no Senate debate took place. Hardly a democratic approach to law in a country with a supposedly democratic system!
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act effectively took out many smaller US online bingo, casino and other gambling operators. Putting people out of work, virtually destroying an industry and this was done with no prior consultation in what we call a "unilateral" manner. Bigger operators turned their eyes to the growing UK and European market, survived and made a killing. Some continued offering services to the US, and slowly these have dwindled under a war attrition from big operators who have the money to pay the large "non-prosecution" fines demanded by the US Department of Justice.
Not to get into this in too much depth, UIGEA cut of the majority of the lifeblood of online bingo and other gambling activities in the US. Poker online however has continued to thrive. Although this Act does not prohibit actually playing gambling games online, what it does is make the processing of financial transactions for these activities illegal and financial institutions liable for massive penalties for accepting transactions.
More and more licensors and software developers have stopped making sites available for US players as a result of the Act. What is really sad is that online bingo is such a sociable game and a lot of people benefit from this level of socialization; people such as the disabled, the isolated, the elderly who can’t get out and about as much, particularly in cold weather, and the ill, or people confined taking care of their sick loved ones. So many people in the UK have benefited from this level of contact with the outside world because of the chat as well as the games on offer in online bingo. There are many more people in similar positions in the US, and the complications are just too much to even try playing these games. Also because of this UIGEA issue, online bingo sites in the US just haven’t evolved in the same way as they have in the UK.
Despite massive controversy, objections from the World Trade Organization, and entire nations who have had their livelihoods tampered with by UIGEA. The US has experienced massive economic difficulties, a change of Government and other issues to deal with and have steamrollered over any objections. It is a horribly hypocritical Act as online lotteries, horse racing betting and certain other gambling activities were excluded.
The feeling is that US land casinos and bingo operators were of the opinion that online bingo, poker and casino games would cannibalize their existing business; as these ops wield a huge amount of financial clout, they helped put the UIGEA spoke in the Government works. Now that world online bingo and other gambling industries are leaps and bounds ahead of the US, we believe they are starting to regret this decision. In the UK, land bingo and casinos have an additional revenue stream with their online businesses, US casino concerns do not have this revenue stream and the land casino industry is seriously in trouble. Neither the government, nor the industry kept their eyes on the prize for the future and now they are paying the price.
American online bingo casino and poker rooms encounter massive levels of aggravations and to some operators it is just not worth taking the trouble. They rather offer services to an audience where there is no aggravation involved. A great deal of confusion reigns with operators, players, the US courts and indeed even with the lawmakers regarding this act.
Online Bingo – Changing Demographics
On the other side of the Atlantic where the success of online bingo is absolutely measurable and it has become a mainstream industry, we find all kinds of changes to the games, the players, prizes and promotions happening. Back in the day when I first started writing about online bingo, there were still stereotyped perceptions regarding players. Men would use a female alias so they would not get caught out playing bingo and it was still thought to be a game for the Blue Rinse Brigade. Not typically the kind of players one would really consider would want or have access to the internet, but the stereotype still stuck.
Today everyone plays online bingo – well everyone with half a brain! Players are getting younger, more men are getting involved and they don’t care if they get caught playing bingo. There is even a bingo site aimed specifically at the "Bloke" sector of the market, not that the men care, they play wherever they like what they see. The choice of sites to play is often driven by prizes and promotions and the biggest and best sites always offer the biggest and best prizes.
Online bingo is catching fire in Europe as more newly regulated online gambling industries make way for the old monopolized Government manipulated gambling operations. It is actually incredibly interesting to see what is happening in Europe. Basically EU courts have told all state monopolized gambling industries they have to fall in with the principles of free market trade treaties if they wish to belong to the EU. So one by one new legislation and regulation is being drawn up and state monopolies are falling like houses of cards. The funny thing is that these states still keep trying to manipulate matters and the EU keeps catching them out. So it is all a bit of a comedy of errors, although things are definitely changing.
Online bingo is hugely popular where it all started back with the "Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia" in Italy; in Spain where mostly men play, also in Scandinavian countries where they have their own version of 90 ball bingo, and in the Netherlands. From country to country online bingo differs very little – with small tweaks to the rules here and there. But because the UK has such a sophisticated audience, the prizes are one heck of a lot better. In fact I have been seeing a lot of more European sounding aliases turn up in the winners pages of recent times. This points to the fact that more European players are turning to British online bingo, probably because it pays better and is a lot more fun.
The US did not keep their eyes on the prize in terms of online bingo, casinos or poker rooms, or even think about the long term affects of enacting a totalitarian law such as UIGEA. Their loss, they have shot themselves in the foot to the tune of billions of dollars worth of licensing, tax, subsidiary revenues from employment opportunities and even more. Tough luck, as my old mum would say – the yanks are totally boring! The Brits on the other hand, seem to have a handle on the industry and this appears to be spreading to Europe. Next time we look at UK online bingo and this is some really exciting stuff. The politics have been kept out of it mostly so far even though it is strictly regulated; we are however expecting this to change some day. Right now in the UK it’s fun, fun, fun, and prizes all the way – you can’t but help want to play.