Thursday, January 01, 2009

The History of Bingo

Bingo, or Housie as it is called in Australia and New Zealand, began life as long ago as the 16th century. Its roots lie in Italy where a state run lottery game funded the nation's coffers. That Italian lottery was a direct ancestor of the game of bingo as we know it today.

Bingo then spread throughout Europe where it appeared in many guises. In the late 19th century it was popular in Germany as an educational tool to help teach maths and multiplication: it is still widely used as a teaching aid today.

The game of bingo really took off in the Unites States where it was used as a way of raising funds for charities. Bingo was originally played with beans and was immediately daubed Beano in the US bingo is a shortened version of 'Bean-Go' which Americans started calling the game.

A New York businessman saw the commercial possibilities of bingo and hired a mathematician called Carl Leffler to devise more combinations in bingo cards: in months Leffler invented 6000 different cards. He is said to have then gone insane - the first of many people to be driven to distraction by bingo.

It wasn't until the 1960's that bingo came back across the Atlantic and that bingo as a pastime took off in Britain. Eric Morley, the man who presided over the Miss World pageant, saw bingo as way of filling the cinemas, variety theatres and dance halls that had been left empty by the rise of television. It was Morley that reinvented bingo as a commercial concern.

Morley was greatly helped by the relaxation of Britain's gambling laws. Strangely, bingo was never frowned upon like other forms of gambling and was seen as an enjoyable, sociable hobby for everyone. Before long Eric Morley's company Mecca led the bingo craze.

Unlike the entertainments that it replaced bingo proved a sure fire way of filling the buildings that TV had left redundant. It gradually became more sophisticated with Random Number Generating machines replacing the original contraptions that were used to draw numbers: the old machines not only looked homemade they also allowed for games to be fixed very easily.

Bingo's unique vocabulary also took root at this stage with the, now everyday, phrases like 'Two Fat Ladies' becoming popular. A Caller of the Year contest is still held annually in Britain. Today the larger bingo halls do not use the old vocabulary but it lives on in holiday resorts and social clubs.

And the bingo halls themselves were modernised. No longer did they have the atmosphere of old cinemas mourning the loss of their silver screen stars. The hall's now had the feel of purpose built bingo venues. Indeed in the 1980's purpose built bingo halls began to appear, the first opened in Canton in Cardiff. Many venues now offer a full night out with people meeting up early to enjoy meals and drinks before the game starts.

Bingo seems to live outside the normal dictates of fashion and social trends. In 2004 more people went to bingo halls than went to football matches in the UK and bingo continued to attract celebrities like Elle MacPherson and Mariah Carey.

Bingo has embraced the internet and online bingo is now a multi-million pound business in Britain. In one way, however, bingo has stayed loyal to its roots with a major feature of online bingo being the chat options that online bingo sites offer. Even with new technology bingo has remained a very social game.

Like the traditional game of bingo the US led the way in the online bingo craze. But the UK now enjoys the fastest growing online bingo market. Many players enjoy both online bingo and traditional bingo halls, although the internet has an appeal to younger generations with 90% of online players under the age of 50.

Online bingo sites tend to offer both the traditional British 90 ball game and the US 75 ball game. The sites, like many traditional bingo halls, offer all round entertainment with slot machine and card games as well as multiple bingo rooms that you can play bingo in and now they even offer free bingo games to new players.

Both online and offline bingo continues to thrive. From unlikely beginnings in Italy it has spread across the world and continues to enthral and frustrate players today. And, with the growth of online bingo, it seems likely that bingo will continue to delight millions for a long time to come.

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