Is Bingo a Casino Game or a Lottery?

Even before the rise of online bingo, the game was prevalent in many countries. You could find bingo players in retirement homes, schools, churches and traditional bingo halls. Bingo’s diverse background is why it feels strange to regard it as a casino game. Could the 90-ball bingo game that families play at home with their children or in churches truly be compared to casino games? Maybe bingo is not a casino game at all. Perhaps it’s a lottery? To help answer all these questions, we’re digging deeper into the history of bingo and its evolution.

Is bingo a lottery?

When we look at bingo’s history, the immediate answer to this question is yes. Or at least, it was at first. Bingo is thought to have entered the scene in the 1500s in Italy as an Italian lottery game called Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia. This title was later shortened to Le Lotto, meaning the lottery.

This version was used more as a lottery than a family game. Later, the infectious love for the game spread to France. When it reached the French, it became a lottery game played primarily by wealthy aristocrats to amuse themselves and increase their riches. By the 1880s and 90s, it was available to purchase as a boxed game in Europe.  

From castles to carnivals

Bingo didn’t remain a lottery game for the rich and wealthy for long. In the 1920s, Hugh J. Ward started running bingo games at carnivals in Georgia and Pennsylvania.  Moreover, he created a standardized version of the game. His version of the game was very similar to what we play today. Players had to mark off announced numbers on their tickets to achieve a winning pattern or combination. In 1933, Ward secured the copyright for the game and wrote the first book of rules on how to play bingo

Ward’s version was later adapted into a slightly different play style called beano. This was still bingo, except players used beans as markers to cover numbers that were called out. Beano continued to become more and more successful as it drew large groups of players in Great Britain. In Germany, the Italian version of bingo, also called Tombola, was used in the 19th century to help teach children mathematics, spelling and even subjects like history.

From beano to bingo

Bingo cards and numbers on a wooden table.

The businessman who took bingo to even greater heights was a toy salesman from New York called Edwin Lowe. After he watched a beano game and heard a player shout bingo instead of beano by accident, he realized that it could be a clever name for the game. Lowe proposed the game under its new name to his friend Carl Leffler. Leffler loved it, and they collaborated to remarket bingo and elevate it from a carnival game to the universal game we play today. 

Together, Lowe and Leffler added more features to the classic straight-line beano. This is how they came up with the idea for bingo patterns.

Is bingo considered gambling?

The funds from bingo games have been used to help restore cities, finance governments and raise funds for charities. But even when bingo proceeds are used for worthy causes, the money involved could mean buying tickets is essentially gambling. 

Firstly, playing bingo online for real money is always considered gambling. Online games offer larger monetary prizes, and most players engage in online bingo games to make money. Basically, gambling is any activity that involves betting or putting money at risk to win more money. However, when we turn to the law, the criteria for gambling activity are more specific and defined.

Bingo is classified as a gambling activity, but many gambling-restricting US states allow citizens to participate in the game. Bingo is a legal form of gambling that some states permit for specific groups such as the elderly or families. Even though playing bingo at home online is illegal in some states, residents are allowed to play the game in traditional settings. 

The exchange of money when buying tickets or winning prizes makes bingo a gambling activity in the United States. Whether or not it is permitted depends on your state laws.

When is bingo not a gambling activity?

Top view of colorful lottery balls.

If bingo is a gambling game, why do you find it being played in churches and schools? Bingo gambling restrictions are eased if the event or game fits specific criteria. For a bingo game to be exempt from gambling restrictions, all proceeds from a bingo event would have to be donated to charity. There would also need to be a limit on how much money can be awarded to winning players. For example, the bingo jackpot for these legal games may not exceed $250 in monetary or object value. 

In states like Michigan, organizers can run legal games as long as at least 50% of the proceeds are given to charity. The rest can be kept as profit. In states with strict gambling laws, offering free bingo tickets ensures that the venue is not classified as a gambling venue. Some businesses find loopholes and offer free tickets only when players purchase certain meals or products.  

Bingo versus casino games

If you think about it, bingo works much like some of your favorite online casino games. Bingo is still very similar to the lottery or keno. Players listen for their numbers and hope they have the first complete bingo card. So then, bingo must be completely different from games like slot machines, right? Not really.

When you buy physical or online bingo cards, you’re making a bet on the game like you would on a round at a table game or on a payline in a slot machine. You can decide how many tickets you want to buy for each session. Buying more tickets is essentially increasing your stake and your odds of winning. The random nature of how bingo numbers are chosen in online games and at bingo halls brings in the same element of chance that you find in other casino games. If you’re playing for money, bingo and casino games are essentially the same. 

When you play online, there’s always a game coming up for you to join and plenty of tickets to buy. It is helpful to acknowledge that bingo is a casino game. That way, you’ll remember to play responsibly and manage your bingo budget.

Start playing bingo your way with Borgata Online

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