Generally, it’s the United States that leads the way in many things, including technology. So, it’s quite surprising that, when it comes to the game of online bingo, it is the UK that is the undisputed world leader.
According to the latest figures from the Gambling Commission, the body that regulates the sector, £5.7 billion was spent on online bingo and casinos between April 2019 and March 2020, over an 8% increase over the same period in the previous year.
What makes this all the more remarkable is that it was originally a game imported from America, despite being founded in Europe.
The origins of modern bingo
Although the principles of bingo go back to 16th century Italy when it was introduced to raise money for the Government, the modern game has a much more recent birth.
Edwin Lowe was a travelling salesman in the 1930s who came across a game called “beano” being played at state fairs in the Midwest. It was given this name because players covered the numbers on their cards with a bean as they were called out. The first player to complete all their card then called out “beano” to announce they’d won.
Lowe saw the potential of the game, if only it could be simplified. So, he renamed it “bingo” and removed the need for beans and introduced the now-famous dibber instead. He also joined forces with a partner in the printing business and started producing cards printed with randomized numbers for inclusion in the game.
As a historical side-note, Lowe was also the person marketed and popularised Yahtzee having bought the rights from its Canadian inventors. So, he was certainly a man with a feel for knowing exactly what the public would like to play.
The move across the Atlantic
After the wildfire success of bingo in America, in the years immediately after the end of the Second World War it made its way over to the UK. It was quickly adopted almost as a national game and very soon bingo halls started to spring up all over the country.
The game proved to be just as popular as a way to socialise for people, with the money-winning aspect taking a back seat.
It was given another boost when television arrived, meaning that cinemas up and down the country had to close. These were then easily converted into bingo halls to satisfy the enthusiasm for the game which continued to grow.
Alongside this, the cult of the bingo caller also started to emerge. These were larger than life personalities who called out the numbers, often with a kind of accompanying slang. Typical examples of this are “legs eleven” and, the decidedly un-PC “two fat ladies, eighty-eight”.
The 1960’s was a peak time for bingo halls and players, however as time went on, bingo became less popular as more engaging and modern forms of entertainment became available. So, by the 1990s, bingo halls across the country had started to close, and the game seemed to have had its day.
The UK saw many of its once popular bingo halls begin to close down in the 1990’s after the game of bingo became less and less popular.
The arrival of online bingo
But bingo was far from over. The emerging online casinos sector realised that the game would be a perfect complement to the others on offer and set about reinventing it for the digital age.
From a huge number of competitors, the ones offering the best bingo games soon emerged. These are designed to appeal to as many people as possible, offering both 75 and 90 ball varieties as well as tie-ins with popular TV shows like Deal or No Deal.
For players today, it’s simply a question of knowing how to spot and choose the best bingo sites before deciding where to play.
Something that the best ones have also perfected is the social aspect of bingo. They generally have chat rooms included in their sites so players can enjoy virtual meetups with friends for a night of bingo, even if they live of different sides of the country. The chat rooms mean that they can have fun and catch up on news when they play – which is also something that they can do whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them.
Can it make it in the US?
So, the million-dollar question is whether the runaway success of online bingo can be replicated in the US.
Several states in the USA have already legalised online gambling, if others follow online bingo in the USA could reach the same heights as the UK.
There are plenty of reasons why it could.
The first is because of the more serious style of bingo that has always been the American way. The social aspect has always taken second place for Americans and the fast pace of the online game should fit in well in this respect.
Americans are also more used to playing the 75-ball game and there are plenty of options available on pretty much all online bingo sites.
And, while socialising might not be so important for Americans, the fact that someone in New York could potentially meet up with friends in Miami or LA to play together also has an obvious appeal.
There’s also always a great appetite for the novel and different in the US. So, recruiting players wanting to experience this new version of an old favourite shouldn’t be too difficult at all.
It all points to a potentially bright future for online bingo in the US, as well as a very fitting way for the game to travel full circle back to where it once began.