Bingoversity History

Curious to know more about how your favourite game started out in Britain before the Internet? InternetBingo gazes back through the mists of time to trace the rise of Bingo as one of Britain’s most popular pastimes!

The British Bingo boom

The story of Bingo in Britain really starts in the 1960s, nearly some three decades after the game bearing its name exploded in the USA. The roots of the game are clearly to be found in the same European lotto games that were the inspiration for US toy producer Edwin S. Lowe, however it wasn’t until the passing of the Gaming Act 1960 by the UK Parliament that legal conditions were in place to allow Bingo to make its mark on British popular culture.

The Rise and Fall Of British Bingo

With Bingo gaming now legal in licenced members-only clubs, it was one Eric Morley of Mecca who spotted the potential mass appeal and commercial opportunity of the game after a visit to the US. A shrewd operator, already famous for bringing some glamour to post war Britain with his Miss World beauty competition, Morley saw Bingo as a way to repurpose the ballrooms Mecca had made its name with, but which were beginning to lose popularity in the face of new leisure purs uits such as television.

The former glories of the venues Mecca used for its Bingo halls meant the UK Bingo experience was immediately more upmarket and luxurious than the US counterpart that had inspired it. Eric Morley also brought more pizzazz to his pioneering halls by using the now familiar glass cabinets fitted with fans blowing numbered ping pong balls as the random number generator, contrasting sharply with the rather drab US style of balls picked from a bag!

The cheap cost and relative glamour of the new Bingo halls made them an instant hit with working-class Britain, and there followed an incredible growth in the business throughout the 60s and early 70s with Bingo halls springing up on many high streets, often taking over the premises of failing cinemas and old-fashioned dance halls. But soon, what had seemed such modern entertainment in the Swinging 60s began to look dated itself as the 70s rolled into the 80s. As cinema reinvented itself as a multiplex home to big-budget, effect-stuffed blockbusters, and disco begat dance clubs, UK Bingo found it hard to compete for the attentions of new, young customers. Increasingly seen as ‘old hat’ attendances at Bingo halls began to dwindle and some were to close.

UK Bingo Bounces Back

Whether it was the rise of ‘retro chic’, or simply the owners of UK Bingo halls re-investing in modernization of their premises and re-inventing their marketing of the game, interest in Bingo clubs began to revive during the 90s, and a new wave of players began to discover its delights. More importantly, the implementation of the World Wide Web, opening up the potential of the Internet as a new entertainment medium for the general public in the mid 90s, created a revolution in domestic Bingo as significant (if not more so) than Eric Morley’s first high street halls in the 60s. Bingo’s simplicity lent itself well to the limitations of the early ‘consumer’ Web, where dial-up modems and slow data speeds where the norm, and interest in the game has seen extraordinary growth as the Web has matured, becoming faster, more secure and more accessible. Now there are myriads of online Bingo halls offering excellent simulations of the British Bingo experience and igniting interest in casual players to join land- based clubs too for the ultimate in authenticity!

The Future For UK Bingo?

The introduction of legally enforced smoking bans in British pubs and clubs has caused considerable anguish for the traditional UK Bingo industry, with some real-world clubs closing, or facing closure, as attendances have declined following the ban (it seems some players would rather give up their Bingo than their smoking habit!) However UK Bingo has survived a downturn before, and the continuing success of UK online Bingo may well be the catalyst for a whole new army of players to seek out some real-world sessions, rebuilding the popularity of high-street halls. Certainly UK online Bingo is here to stay, and as technology develops we can envisage the best virtual clubs becoming ever more indistinguishable from their land-based forbears. Whether it’s online or land-based, one thing is clear – Bingo has firmly established itself as part of the cultural landscape in the UK, and looks set to remain so for a very, very long time indeed!