The changing face of bingo games

“bingo!”(CC BY-SA 2.0) by vcheregati

You no longer have to go out to enjoy a game of bingo.

The traditional role of bingo in British society is unique. Think of British bingo and what immediately springs to mind? For most people, this is an image of working class bingo halls, probably in the north of England or in seaside resorts – with the predominantly older gamblers having fun in a smoky atmosphere which is often distinctly “saucy” in a “Carry On” films-esque type of way thanks, mainly, to the cheekiness of some of the traditional bingo calls.

There are many examples of highly risqué calls far too rude to mention here; but a couple that epitomise the kind of thing we’re taking about would be:
– “Was she worth it? Number 76” In the old days before decimalisation, the cost of a marriage licence was seven shillings and sixpence; 7/6d hence the question “was she worth it?” to which a traditional British bingo audience would retort: “every penny!”

– Or how about “Gandhi’s Breakfast, number 80”? This one only becomes obvious to those who know a little about Indian history when you imagine looking from above at the famous Indian leader Gandhi sitting cross-legged in front of a plate. Gandhi, of course, was famous for his fasts – so his plate is empty!

Bingo halls have been overshadowed by online bingo’s popularity, but this sort of picture is, arguably, a thing of the past. The introduction of the UK’s National Lottery in 1994, the smoking ban, the advent of the internet and more latterly the smartphone have conspired to give traditional UK bingo halls something of a standing eight count.

Meanwhile, online bingo has been thriving. Statistics show that bingo games on, for example, along with other big names including Gala, Lucky Pants bingo, WOW bingo and many others are enjoying bigger than ever numbers playing online and, increasingly, via their smartphones.

And when you stop to think about it, the reasons that online bingo is so popular are simple. People can play whenever they want, wherever they are, for just a few minutes or for a whole evening. Online bingo sites don’t have opening hours – the games are there on a 24-hour schedule. For many online players, the added bonus of a social side to the game is also a draw. Players can get together in the bingo chat rooms and enjoy some company while they watch the game.

It’s no surprise that online bingo is booming. Net gaming revenues, again using 32Red as an example, were up by 34% in 2015, whilst the number of licensed operators regulated under the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act of 2014, was 52 in September 2015 – up from 49 the previous March, according to Gambling Commission statistics.

So what’s happened to the bingo halls?


“Capitol, Forest Hill, SE23” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Ewan-M

Some bingo halls have been redeployed as pubs and bars

As you might expect, the stats for traditional bingo halls have been moving in largely the opposite direction. During the mid-1980s, there were around 1,600 bingo halls in the UK. But this number fell quickly, by over 20%, between 1995 and 2000 – in part because of the gradual uptake of online gaming.

Meanwhile, the smoking bans introduced in the UK in 2006 and 2007 did nothing to help the traditional bingo halls where, it is estimated, half of the players used to smoke during play. According to the latest figures published by the UK’s Gambling Commission, there are now just 615 licensed physical bingo premises in the country – a figure down by over 60% during the last three decades. Whichever way you look at it, bingo is booming


The old bingo hall basket may not be used anymore, but we all still love the game

There’s no sign of bingo per se losing popularity. Many gamblers choose to experience the magic of the traditional bingo game through playing online in the comfort of their own homes or whilst commuting or simply killing time wherever they may be thanks to their smartphones.

Furthermore, a new tax regime introduced in the 2014 budget halved bingo halls’ taxes on profits to 10% “to protect jobs and protect communities”, according to UK Chancellor George Osborne, and the traditional halls still enjoy an estimated 45 million visits each year.

Also, January 2016 saw the country’s first new bingo hall for over seven years open for business in Southampton. So, perhaps there’s plenty of room for all providers in this bingo-mad country? This note of optimism is reinforced by the market research group Mintel who believe that the total spend on all the UK’s physical bingo halls will go up from £690 million in 2014, to £728 million by 2019.

Perhaps some of the revival of interest in bingo halls comes from the younger generations of players, who first played bingo online. Now it’s not unusual to see some groups of younger people out on a bingo night. There are even some pop-up bingo club nights such as Rebel Bingo. It’s clear that UK gamblers still love playing bingo, either online, in the traditional way in an old-fashioned hall or on at a one-off bingo night held elsewhere.

Eyes down, everyone…!