Of all the business rebirths of recent years, the runaway popularity of the game of bingo must be one of the most remarkable ones. But reborn it has been, both in the “live” version and online. It’s an example that may pack many lessons for other businesses that are ripe for a renaissance, as we shall see.
First, let’s run through a brief history of the game. According to most sources, bingo was not exactly the brainchild of a traveling salesman in America in the 1930s – but he certainly gave it mass appeal. As the story goes, a salesman called Edwin S. Lowe operated in the Midwest, visiting many fairs and carnivals. He became aware of a game already played in certain towns, “beano,” in which an announcer called out random numbers and players placed a dried bean on the corresponding number on their cards. The first person to fill out their card called out “beano” and won a prize.
Lowe saw the potential to market the game under the more catchy and exciting name, “bingo,” and replace the beans with pens to mark the numbers – and the rest is history. We should note, however, that bingo – or beano, if you will – had its origins in games played much earlier in the Old Continent, with some citing the Italian lottery of around 1530 as its great-grandfather.
The rise and fall of the game
The popularity of bingo spread quickly, but it wasn’t until after the Second World War that it really caught on in Europe, and more so in the UK in particular. By the end of the 1950s, bingo halls were springing up everywhere with many cinemas, whose attendances had been dwindling since the arrival of television, being converted to accommodate the game.
However, by the 1970s, just as TV had replaced going to the movies, other forms of entertainment started to squeeze bingo out too, and gradually the halls started to close down. It seemed like bingo had had its day.
But, like many things, the arrival of the internet meant that bingo was due for a revival. The mechanics of the game meant that the software being used to generate random results in games like roulette and slots could be easily adapted to pick online bingo balls as well. Admittedly, many elements of the “live” game aren’t so easy to recreate online, such as the physical presence of the bingo caller and the traditional names given to the numbers like “legs 11” and “two little ducks, 22” but one crucial aspect is – the sociable element of the game.
The very best of today’s online bingo brands have successfully managed to recreate the sort of social experience that used to exist in the old bingo halls. The only difference is that the players are now meeting up online in chat rooms, which have created thriving social communities. Players can have conversations as they play, exchange tips and generally feel involved in something far bigger than simply an online game. A further factor in the game’s growing popularity is that its simple nature means that it’s ideal to play on a tablet or smartphone, which are also many people’s first choice of methods of communication and entertainment today.
This, along with the fun branding that the best of the bingo sites use, has definitely made it one of the fastest-growing areas of online gambling – and one which is reportedly even starting to attract an increasing number of male players as well as younger players to a game more traditionally associated with older women.
Live bingo rises again
There has also been another unexpected side effect from the growing popularity of the online game – a resurgence in interest in the land-based version. The bingo halls that are still open have reported rising player numbers and it’s even become a favorite in a number of UK venues that have started to hold bingo club events. These take the form of action-packed nights in which a party atmosphere prevails. So, while the bingo is the focus of the evening, there are also dance-offs, competitions for other prizes and even cabaret acts.
So it’s obvious that bingo, once dismissed as a game whose time had come and gone is very much with us today. Britain leads the way with it contributing a considerable proportion of the UK’s £14.4 gross gambling yield, according to official figures. As to whether it’s also going to increase in popularity across Europe and beyond, only time will tell – although it certainly looks that way.