No longer a pensioners’ pastime, online bingo has brought the game to a whole new audience.
Forget the days of old biddies trekking to the bingo hall on a Saturday night; online bingo is a massive industry that attracts players of all ages and genders. Bingo clients are some of the most popular gambling companies around (particularly in the United Kingdom) and have reinvented bingo for the 21st Century with the addition of linked jackpots and a massive social media presence.
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Bingo is one of the most popular forms of gambling, and one of the simplest. There’s little skill involved: numbered balls are plucked from a machine and announced, and players identify the numbers on a card. The first player to mark off all the numbers on their card is deemed to have a ‘full house’ and, when playing in bingo halls, are required to yell ‘bingo!’ or ‘house!’ to announce their success. Their card is then checked to see if it has been completed as claimed, and their prize awarded if so.
Some bingo games involve other prizes – such as being the first to complete a complete line of numbers, and also the first to complete two lines. These are awarded for the UK version of the game, in which a bingo card has fifteen numbers arranged in three lines of five.
The US version of bingo has cards with numbers arranged in a 5×5 grid. The central square in the grid is usually a star rather than a number, as is given as a ‘freebie’. Prizes are given for completing the full card, or being the first to complete a line either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, with a special prize if the line includes the central star.
US bingo cards are typically arranged in three 5×5 grids, with all seventy-five numbers in the draw being found somewhere on the card aside from the three that have been replaced by the star symbol. US bingo is also known as 75-ball bingo for this reason, whereas the UK game is known as 90-ball bingo.
’75-ball pattern bingo’ is another variant that has grown in popularity since the advent of online bingo rooms. In this game, players are required to complete a particular ‘shape’, such as a star, or a dollar or a pound sign, in order to win.
80-ball bingo is the other popular game, and is the version often seen at fun-fairs and in amusement arcades in the UK. Numbers are arranged in a 4×4 grid, and prizes are given for four corners, four inner squares, lines and of course, full house. 80-ball bingo cards often come with five 4×4 grids meaning that all 80 numbers are covered.
Aside from bingo cards and a very basic knowledge of mathematics, the only other item needed to play bingo at a ‘serious’ level is a ‘dabber’ – a thick-nibbed felt-tipped pen used to mark off the numbers as they are called.
The history of bingo is shrouded in mystery. It’s thought the game originated in Italy in 1530s. Italians were huge lottery fans, and every Saturday there was a bingo-style lottery game called ‘Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia’ which was incredibly popular. The game moved to France in the late eighteenth century where it was called ‘Le Lotto’, but only rich Frenchmen were allowed to play.
The game continued to spread across Europe and eventually reached Germany. However, the Germans thought bingo childish and instead mutated it into a game suitable for teaching children the basics of maths and the alphabet. Each child would be given a board upon which were etched numbers or letters, and the teacher would then read out letters and numbers in sequence which the children would have to find on their boards.
By the time the game moved across the Atlantic to the US, it had become known as ‘beano’, and records suggest it was first played at carnivals in Atlanta, Georgia. A New York toy salesman called Edwin S. Lowe recognised the potential ‘beano’ had as a child’s game, although he renamed it ‘bingo’.
Lowe hired a Columbia University math professor called Carl Leffler to create as many bingo cards as possible. Even though any number drawn during bingo has as much chance of being drawn as any other number, Lowe thought it important that the numbers on any particular card would be seen as ‘randomly spaced’ as any other card, and so sought Leffler’s help. Leffler eventually devised over 6,000 possible bingo cards.
Bingo never enjoyed popularity as a children’s game in the US, however, as it was seized upon by churches as a legitimate fund-raising activity, as most other gambling activities at the time were banned. The bingo craze soon swept a recession-hit United States and, within five years, the number of bingo games being played in the country per week rose from zero to 10,000.
In the UK, bingo grew in popularity as the country began to recover from the ravages of the Second World War. It became a common pastime up and down the country, although it was more popular in the North and the Midlands than in the South, and was more popular with woman than with men who would rather be seen in the local betting shop.
After losing popularity in the 1970s, the game experienced a slight rebirth in the 1980s when several UK newspapers gave away bingo cards and printed a series of numbers over course of the week to be marked off. Winners could expect huge cash windfalls, but most of the newspapers dropped bingo when the National Lottery came along in 1994.
Bingo still enjoyed popularity in the UK until around 2005, when the membership numbers at the likes of Mecca and Gala began to fall. Bingo remains a popular pastime in the UK, but mostly it is now played at online casinos and specialist online bingo sites.
In UK culture, most people can name a few of the ‘bingo calls’ spoken by bingo callers to announce the drawing of a specific number. Some of the most well-known are:
A small handful of the biggest, UK-based online casinos offer dedicated bingo rooms. These include TitanBet, William Hill, Gala, 888, BGO and Bet365. Playing in an online bingo room involves finding a suitable game that is about to start, and buying any number of bingo cards for that game up to the maximum permitted.
When your game is about to start, you will be able to enter the bingo room in which the game is being played. You will be told how many other players with bingo cards are in the room with you, which prizes (usually single line, double line and full house) are on offer, and how much cash there is to be won.
You can opt to mark your card yourself, and have it marked automatically. If you choose the first option, it doesn’t matter if you miss a number or two as once your card is close to winning a prize, you will be informed. This usually happens when you have two numbers or one number to go (or ‘2TG’ and ‘1TG’ in online bingo terminology). If you do win, the game will stop and your prize will be announced. If someone else wins then the game will also stop and the prize-winner announced.
You do not have to be online to play a game in which you have bought a ticket. Your card will be marked automatically and if you have won, you will receive notification of your good fortune.
At some bingo rooms, you can chat with your fellow players while you play, and with the bingo callers themselves. This can be done via a text message system or via real audio. All online bingo rooms have a zero-tolerance attitude to any form of abuse or bad behaviour.
Many online casinos have slots-style bingo games you can play, but such games are not popular and are seen as a poor substitute for ‘the real thing’.
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