Late 1920s, United States of America. During a round of Beano, a variation of the original Italian Lotto, a player – gender unconfirmed – shouts Bingo instead. E. S. Lowe is within earshot and shortly after produces the newly titled game we know and love today. As demonstrated by the titles above, variations have existed, but none of them has quite the ring that, ‘BING-O’, has when cried. The name has not changed through the years, but the game’s image has. It is not just the cards or boards that have evolved, but also the medium through which it is enjoyed by the public.
Restriction upon restriction was overcome in the United Kingdom as much as the US, leading to the legalisation of gambling in the 1960s and 70s. Bingo moved from halls and churches to the television screen. It was a strategy intended to boost TV ratings as it competed with both the radio and newspaper. In the US, All Star Bingo and TV Super Bingo were the first shows to broadcast live games in the company of celebrities like William Shatner and Joan Fontaine, while endowing their viewers with winnings of up to $1000. The UK had its equivalents, of course. Bob’s Full House aired in September 1984 on BBC1 and enjoyed a six-year ride with the help of presenter Bob Monkhouse. It was succeeded in 1995 by ITV’S Lucky Numbers, hosted by Shane Richie, and showering its audience with money and trophies until 1997.
The success of these shows was the product of innovation, appeal, and a will to connect to audiences from all walks of life. As long as they owned or had access to a TV set, anyone could benefit, professionals, families, even children, the last being a particularly coveted audience for the power they had over their parents. Unfortunately, the Bingo dream did not last long. Shows and venues were impacted by a drop in popularity. It was when the tax on bingo hall profits was halved in 2014 that their decline was finally reversed, according to reports, although members of the industry support that the game will never truly go out of fashion. In the modern world, this is very likely to be true.
Thanks to more favorable legislation and the steady rise of online availability, Bingo is indeed making a comeback. The internet is bursting at the seams with iGaming websites that supply the game to any PC or mobile device. Just like in any bingo hall, Sun Bingo, for instance, maintains the enthusiasm and social climate of an actual event, and rewards its audience with cash prizes, jackpots and promotions. The allure does not end there. The range of Bingo fans continues to expand with younger and younger people joining in. No surprise there, considering the themes the game can adopt are as limitless as the human imagination. Parties often have such activities featuring purchased and printable bingo cards of Pokémon, Lego or any fun and strange idea. And these are not always kids’ parties.
Additionally, Bingo is the type of entertainment that brings people together, promising laughs, thrills and possible profit, which makes it an effective method of fundraising. With the connectivity of the internet, it is easier to get in touch with people who care and would enjoy a game of Bingo that would help a good cause. Optimist TV Bingo is a Canadian program provided by Rogers tv. The funds raised from each show go to various youth schemes, such as Children’s Safety Village and Special Olympics. Here is evidence that the relationship between television and Bingo, rather than deteriorate, has matured into that of a quirky yet wise and discrete old couple.
‘Bingo-Balls’ – Digby Fire Department via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Is it not amusing, how the story of a game can be as much a story of cultural change? Bingo, and its cousins, can be traced across Europe and the Americas. It has bounced from popularity to infamy to TV and online stardom. Whatever ups and downs it endured on television, they are a thing of the past as the internet has welcomed it with open arms, eager to reinvent and promote it to a far-from-reluctant public. Perhaps, it is the memory of the past, the hope it represented, that has firmly placed Bingo in the heart of the UK and beyond.