Uncovering the History of Bingo

A red bingo cage filled with multicolored bingo balls.

Bingo has existed for centuries. Today, it’s enjoyed by many people around the world at online casinos and brick-and-mortar halls alike. But where did this classic game come from, and has it always been as popular as it is today? Join us as we take a look at these questions and uncover the history of bingo.

Who invented bingo?

Nobody knows exactly who is responsible for the creation of this historic game, but the earliest records point to “Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia,” a lottery game played by Italians around 1530.  

The original experience spreads across Europe

The game eventually found its way out of the country and into other parts of the world. It’s believed to have been played in France in the late 1770s, where it was known as “Le Lotto.” It was supposedly particularly popular among the French aristocracy. It’s possible that the Germans also took to the game, but not as a gambling game, but rather as an education tool, in the 1800s. The British also played the game in the late 1800s, although it went under different names, including tombola, house, or housey-housey.

The modern game

The game that we all know and love today can primarily be credited to an American named Edwin S Lowe, a toy salesman who spotted the game being played at a carnival in 1929. The game, which was then called “beano,” caught his attention. Lowe noted how the game played out and decided to put together his own version. 

He reportedly tested out his game among his friends, who absolutely loved it. During their playtests, one of them got so excited when they won that they cried out “bingo!” instead of “beano.” Understanding how catchy it was, he decided to call his game by this accidental phrase – and as they say, the rest is history. 

Lowe’s game exploded in popularity, but he came across another problem due to the incredible number of people playing his game: his cards were too similar. As more people purchased and played his game, more people complained about how multiple people could win during a game. This made it incredibly difficult for game organizers, who either had to split prizes or plan ahead with multiple rewards.

He reached out to Carl Leffler, a math professor from Columbia University, to help him create more unique cards. Thanks to Leffler, Lowe was able to add 6,000 unique cards to his game and reduce the chances of multiple people winning a game of bingo. However, the amount of work required to design these cards by hand may have been too great for Leffler, who reportedly had a mental breakdown, likely due to the complex work he did for Lowe. 

Lowe would eventually go on to sell his company and retire a multimillionaire.

Bingo on its way out?

Over the decades, bingo would continue to grow in popularity in the US and in the UK, with dedicated halls for games springing up everywhere – some of which remain today. However, around the 1980s and into the 1990s, the popularity of the game began to stagnate and decline. This may have been for multiple reasons, including the fact that the game had remained pretty much the same as when it exploded into the mainstream in the mid-20th century and that the game faced stiff competition from other forms of entertainment. 

There was another issue that arose in the mid-2000s that also impacted the popularity of bingo halls. A public smoking ban came into effect in the US, which hurt bingo hall attendance. The UK also banned smoking in public in 2007, which had a similar impact there. Bingo halls suffered the financial consequences of the smoking ban, resulting in the closure of some of these venues.

Even though brick-and-mortar venues were undoubtedly struggling in the early 2010s, giving the impression that the game was dying, there was another place where bingo was quietly surging in popularity – cyberspace! 

Bingo goes online and finds new fans

A young woman plays online bingo while lying on her couch.

With the internet becoming accessible in the early 1990s, it was only a matter of time before someone saw the potential of this global network of computers for games, but more specifically, for online bingo. 

As expected, entrepreneurs spotted this opportunity, and lo and behold, the first bingo site was launched online in 1996. This American site was called “Bingo Zone” and was home to free-to-play bingo games. This meant that players didn’t need to wager to play, but they also didn’t win any prizes as a result. Despite the absence of rewards, this site was revolutionary since it allowed people to play together without needing to set foot outside of their homes and laid the foundation for all the online bingo games that were to follow. People got the taste for it.

Over the years, more sites offering online bingo would launch, either as a dedicated service or as part of an online casino. These sites gradually added more features, such as online chat, automatic daubing, and new twists on the game. They also offered several betting options, with the cheapest games costing as little as a few cents to play. Of course, with this came the chance to win real prizes!

These games also became increasingly accessible as mobile technology evolved. In the past, you needed a fairly powerful desktop computer to play online games, but this changed as computer hardware became more powerful and also much smaller. Laptops were the first “mobile” devices that one could use to play bingo online, but in 2007, the way most people would interact with mobile technology would change forever. 

In that year, Apple released its first iPhone – and in doing so, introduced the smartphone concept to the masses. Not only did these phones have large, spacious screens (at least, compared to other mobile phones at the time,) but they were also powerful enough to run online games. This opened the game to an entirely new audience who may not have been interested in going to a hall to play or figuring out how to play it on their desktop computer.

Move forward roughly a decade, and the demographics of online bingo began to change. While the game was still mostly played by women, research started to show that the average player’s age had decreased. A study by a UK-based research organization called YouGov showed that the largest group of online players in the UK was between the ages of 25 and 34 – a major shift away from the stereotype of the game mainly being enjoyed by seniors! 

What lies ahead for the bingo industry?

A bingo player marks off numbers on a bingo card.

If we look at where the game is today, there’s undoubtedly room for it to continue to evolve (like it did with games such as Slingo bingo) and for it to find even more players. But will those players be found in the bingo halls of old or playing in the virtual bingo rooms in cyberspace? It seems more likely to be the latter, but there’s no reason why it won’t be both.

Enjoy bingo today with Borgata Bingo

Now that we’ve delved into the history of this fun and exciting gambling game, why not enjoy everything it has to offer here at Borgata Bingo? We have a wide variety of online bingo games for you to explore. From the classic British 90-ball and American 75-ball games to the latest twists on the tried and true formula, there’s a whole world of bingo at your fingertips.

Register at Borgata Bingo to get in on the fun and excitement!