Bingo History

Today bingo is one of the most popular “soft” gambling games, and in Britain alone more than 8% of the population plays bingo every week, but little do they know about the roots of their favorite game.

The bingo history begins in Italy around 1530 in a state lottery called Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia. The Italian lottery, which was instated for the purpose of increasing Italy’s budget without imposing additional taxes, was the first stone along bingo history. Until these days this ancient game is played every Saturday in Italy, which means it’s been going on for more than four centuries.

The game traveled to other parts of Europe during the 16th century, and in the 1770’s it reached France. There it was adopted by wealthy and rich Frenchmen, which indicates that bingo wasn’t always a game of the crowd. The French people referred the game as Le Lotto.

The French version of the Italian lottery system was similar to nowadays bingo in few but distinctive ways: Le Lotto had three horizontal rows and nine columns, blank spaces were inserted in the tablet at random positions. Each column contained numbers from a fixed set of ten numbers. The column consisted numbers from 1 to 10, the next column had numbers from 11 to 20, and so on up to the nine column, which contained numbers from 81 to 90. The numbers (1-90) were written on chips made from clay or wood, and they were drawn out of a bag.

At that time the German people played early versions of bingo as well, but they used it more for educational purposes – teaching math, history and so on. The gambling aspect of bingo lay dormant for little less than two centuries. The game reached North America and in 1929 it was a county-fair game held in different carnivals in Georgia, in the area of Atlanta. Soon it spread to other states as well.

The real turn in the bingo history came in 1929 when a young toy-salesman named Edwin S. Lowe encountered a bingo game while touring Georgia. Again, in the area of Atlanta. He arrived to a carnival where the only tent which was still open was a Beano tent (Beano is the ‘real’ name of bingo).

Lowe couldn’t believe his eyes – the tent was so packed by the thrilled players that he himself never got the chance to play it at all. As a seasoned salesman Lowe recognized the huge potential of the game and soon he decided to adopt it and to market Beano.

But before doing it Lowe chose to test the game upon friends, he wanted to see if the game can succeed outside of carnivals’ tents. And so, he invited friends to his apartment in New York. His friends were excited about Beano, and Lowe based his opinion that the game would be a tremendous success.

During the game, as his friends’ spirits grew in thrill and excitement, one of his friends was near to complete her Beano Card. As the numbers were called by Lowe, she got more and more excited and when she won she was so ecstatic that she called out “Bingo!” instead of “Beano”. Lowe had a gut-feeling that the name is perfect for marketing the game and he decided to use it, thus bingo was born.

But the bingo history doesn’t begin nor does it stop at this point, the next step was due to a priest from Wilkes Barre of Pennsylvania. This priest used bingo in order to collect charity from people, but he had little success doing so since there were only 24 bingo cards. With so little cards more than one people won each round, this was financially unprofitable. And so, the priest contacted Lowe and asked him to print more bingo cards.

Lowe found the task beyond his abilities so he decided to turn to a mathematician named Carl Leffer, who worked at Columbia University. Lowe asked the professor to make 6,000 bingo cards, and in each one a different set of numbers. Carl received payment on each card he produced. But card after card, without the help of computers, Carl found out it is a hard task and he began to ask for more money for each card. Near the end of the project he asked $100 for each card, some say that the project made him go insane.

And so, with 6,000 cards, the history of bingo moves forward with much vigor – during the 1930’s bingo stormed through churches. Lowe received numerous letters asking him advice and help with bingo games, and so Lowe came out with the “Instructional Manual” – the first printed bingo manual. But Lowe didn’t stop there and in 1934 he published The Blotter, a bingo newspaper, which was distributed to more than 35,000 subscribers. In that year of 1934 more than ten thousands bingo games every week – a phenomena!

Ever since, all along the 20th century, bingo continued to rise in popularity and today there are bingo clubs and hall everywhere on the globe. In the UK and in the US the game had massive success. Today you can even play online bingo if you don’t feel like leaving your house. Indeed, bingo is an unstoppable gaming phenomenon.

David Keneally – Guest Editor. 1.1.06