The History of UK Bingo

It might surprise UK players, but we didn’t come up with this amazing game. Yes, bingo is as much a part of our culture as afternoon tea, fish and chips, and getting sunburnt at the cricket, but sadly we are not its creators. Let’s take a look at the history of this fun game.




The earliest record of bingo in the world

The Italians brought us many good things. Pizza, pasta, and world-famous opera singer Pavarotti. But that’s not all they gave us. The earliest record of bingo actually dates back to Italy in 1530, where it was played as part of the national lottery. It was known as “Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia”, which is what the national lottery is still called to this day.

There are other records showing that this game (or slightly different versions of it) spread across Europe. France, Spain, and yes, even Britain, all played some early version of bingo, but it didn’t quite have the reputation it does today. This was probably because of the laws at the time.

Sorry gov, no dice

Yes, Britain had completely banned gambling in the early 20th century (these were truly dark times), but they made an exception for bingo’s ancestor. Housey, Housey-Housey, Tombola, or Lotto was legal because it helped the government raise military funds, and was also believed to have kept gambling in the military under control. It was also sometimes used by charities to help raise funds, but never officially of course.

“A tombola game? No idea officer! Gambling’s illegal, don't ya know?”

This “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude carried on for decades, despite the ban on the game.

Meanwhile, across the ocean in the USA 

While Housey was still being played by people in the UK on the down-low, a chap from the US was busy turning the game into the craze we all know and love.

Edwin Lowe, a salesman, toymaker, and entrepreneur, was travelling across Georgia. While at a local carnival, he spotted a game being played called Beano. He learnt how the game was played, returned home, and began working on his own version.

As he worked on his game, he played it with his friends. One day, in a fit of excitement (a feeling we all know too well), one of his mates got all tongue-tied and shouted a word that changed the game forever.

Yes, you guessed it — B-I-N-G-O!

Lowe was struck by how well this word worked, renamed his version of the game, printed his own cards, and began to sell it. The game exploded in popularity, and Lowe hired a mathematician to help him make even more unique cards. The game grew so popular that it wasn’t just played in the US, people began playing it in the UK too.

It was official. Beano was dead. Long live bingo!

How bingo officially became a distinctly British pastime

Yes, at this point in the UK, even though bingo and all things bingo-related were still quietly carrying on, the game was still sort-of, technically, very illegal. But that was about to change.

During the 50s the folk that ran the country realised that people were playing the game, regardless of how illegal it was. So to fix this, they decided to create a law (the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960), that would legalise all the “social gambling” that was already happening. The law would ensure there wasn’t any room for dodgy people to profit off these new rules either.

However, a loophole around how the games were run meant that people could charge a fee to take part in the game, even if all the money that was bet had to be returned to players. This loophole didn’t go unnoticed and actually created a new way to play: bingo clubs.

At around the same time, television was duking it out with cinemas and theatres, but when it came to audience numbers, TV was winning. This meant cinema and theatre owners had a lot of space, but no idea what to do with it. The legalisation of bingo couldn’t have come at a better time, as cinema and theatre owners got to work converting their venues to cater to the new growing demand for bingo clubs.

Just two short years after the first bingo club opened on 3 January 1961, millions of bingo fans had signed up to become official members at commercial clubs. Players could now go play their favourite game at these venues, without worrying about the local constables popping by to ruin their fun.

I’m going through changes!

For decades these clubs continued to be popular, but their numbers began to shrink in the 80s. Bigger venues were built by big bingo chains, which was great for bingo players who wanted a bigger, better experience. However, this meant more people playing at a single club, and fewer clubs overall, since smaller clubs couldn’t compete against their bigger rivals.

Another change was looming just over the horizon. New technology was being worked on in the early 90s that would change the world of bingo (and the world in general) forever. No, we don’t mean DVDs (although it was great being able to watch a video over and over without destroying the picture, or having to rewind the video each time) — we’re talking about the internet!

Bingo enters cyberspace

In 1991, the internet introduced a whole new way for people to meet, shop, and even play games. And it didn’t take too long for someone to figure out that it would also be great for bingo. In 1996, the first bingo site, called Bingo Zone, was released.

As the internet became more popular, so did online bingo. Some traditional bingo players blamed this new technology (as well as high taxes and the 2007 UK smoking ban) for the death of bingo clubs, but as always, things were a bit more complicated than that! 

Yes. Bingo halls are not as popular as they used to be, but there are still many that continue to operate to this day. And you can’t ignore the fact that the online gaming industry is booming, which is mostly thanks to a younger crowd who love to play online.

Not only that, but everyone now has access to a wider variety of bingo games than ever before. If you went to a bingo hall, you had to play whatever type of bingo game they were hosting. But when you play online, you can play 90 ball, 75 ball, or even 5-line bingo.

Then there’s simply the convenience. Whether that means sitting at your desk and playing on your computer, or sneaking in a quick game while you use the loo, the internet allows people to play bingo how they want, and where they want.

If you’re a bingo player in the UK, this amount of choice means there’s never been a better time to play!

Be a part of the future with Lucky Pants Bingo

Now that you know about bingo’s rollercoaster ride of a backstory, it’s time to explore the world of online bingo — and Lucky Pants Bingo is here and ready to help!

Lucky Pants Bingo is one of the best online bingo sites in the UK. We offer a wide variety of online bingo games, including the ever popular 90 ball and 75 ball bingo, as well as other online casino experiences, such as online slots and scratchcards. Want to play on the go? Our site is mobile-friendly, so you can play on your mobile devices!

Lisa Stormings / 05 October 2020