Who invented bingo and how long has it been around?

Want to know who invented bingo, where bingo came from and how it was played? We break down the origins of the much-loved game of chance.

Bingo – in some form – has been loved by Brits since the 18th century. While its popularity has fluctuated over decades, it has at some point kept everyone from soldiers at war to Millennials on a night out entertained with the chance of winning cash prizes.

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The origins of bingo

Bingo has its roots in 1500s Italy, spreading throughout Europe over the few hundred years that followed. It started life as a game called, Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia’, which translated to, ‘The Clearance of The Lot of Italy’ back in 1530 and was more like our National Lotto than the game we know today. From there, it was adopted by the French, where it was named, ‘Le Lotto’ and only really played among the wealthy elite.

Why is it called bingo?

To get close to the origins of the bingo game we all know and love today, we need to look Stateside. As legend has it, a New York toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe was travelling from NY to Jacksonville in Georgia on business in 1929. With a little time to spare to fill before his next day’s meeting, Edwin had a little mosey around a passing carnival that had parked up in town. It was there he came across a ‘Beano’ stall, which involved a caller pulling out numbered balls from a cigar box and players using dried beans to cover up numbers written on cards in front of them. Should the players cover a straight line with the beans, they would shout “Beano” and win a teddy bear. 

Lowe waited until the carnival closed to quiz the stall owner. He revealed came up with the game after playing a version of the Germany lottery while travelling in Europe. 

Lowe was quick to take the game back to New York, creating his own set of Beano cards to trial with friends. He was delighted to find they were instantly hooked but in their excitement to win, one shouted “Bingo” instead of “Beano”, and so the game was born.

Two women playing bingo

Alamy

 

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British bingo and ‘Housey Housey’

There is some suggestion that while all this was going on across the pond, us Brits were also developing our own form of bingo. After the creation of a national lottery in Elizabethan times, games of chance were seen as a good route out of poverty. Their popularity quickly grew, with many illegal lottos popping up alongside the state-approved game. The police were keen to shut these down with bingo, in its earliest form, becoming illegal. 

Reports from World War I documents troops playing a very similar game called ‘Housey Housey’ in the trenches. Once the war was over, the British troops were reluctant to give up the game that had helped them pass so many bleak days. Bringing it back home, bingo was a hit among both men and women in post-war Britain. Illegal games started to pop up all over the country, over the next 20 years.

Peckham, in South-East London, became a hot-bed of Housey Housey action thanks to a man called Louis Hart. Hart was known to police for running several illegal Housey Housey games back in 1937. Each one would have around 30-60 players but it was far cry from the fast-paced bingo we know today. Players would sit with their cards in front of them, but the actual process of drawing numbers was incredibly laborious. To cut through the tedium, comical bingo calls were invented.

The game continued to spread throughout the working men’s clubs of the north of England until it was finally formalised in the UK in 1968 through the UK Gaming Act. By 1986, the National Bingo Game was legalised and became hugely popular, until a dip in the early 00s, which coincided with the ban of smoking indoors. In recent years, bingo has grown again in popularity – helped by the creation of online bingo.

Crowd waiting to play bingo, which was invented in the 1500s

Getty

When was the bingo dauber invented?

A major flaw in using beans to mark your numbers was that a little nudge of the table would send them flying and ruin the game.

Another solution was needed and in the late 19th century, a special pen that would cover the number in one quick dab was invented. Bingo daubers are a bingo-player’s staple but be warned – in most cases, the ink is permanent so you might be in trouble if you accidentally dab your clothes.

Some bingo halls use biros to mark the numbers but if you want a classic method, then a bingo dauber is the way to go. If you’re playing online bingo then the numbers will be automatically marked as they are called.

When was online bingo invented?

The first online bingo game was created in 2003 and it has grown in popularity ever since. Bingo is generally viewed as a game played by older people in bingo halls and working men’s club, but in recent years the game has boomed in popularity among younger crowds. Online bingo especially appeals to audiences of all ages. 

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