Bingo History

Bingo is the most popular game in the UK today. It is also believed to be one of the oldest games, originating back in the 1500s. The evolution of the game through the course of history to its present form as modern online bingo is an interesting study in itself.

Cultural Differences In Bingo

What is important to note is that, unlike poker, bingo is played differently in different cultures. American bingo is essentially 75-ball bingo with 5×5 cards whilst British bingo is 90-ball bingo with 3×7 tickets.

Italian Roots

bingo balls draw

Bingo, when it first appeared, was not known as bingo. It has had its roots in 16th century Italy when it was a form of an Italian lottery referred to as “ll Gioco del Lotto-d’Italia”. After Italy was united in 1530, this game became the Italian National Lottery, ll Gioco del Lotto-d’Italia, and was organized and held almost regularly. Interestingly, even today, the Italian State lottery accounts for a yearly contribution of more than 75 million dollars.

Le Lotto (France)

After having been originated in Italy, the game gradually caught the attention and fancy of the intelligentsia of the French. In the year 1778, the game took the shape of the classic version of Lotto. Referred to as Le Lotto, it was basically a card game with the card being divided into 3 horizontal and 9 vertical rows.

The vertical rows contained 1-10 in the first row, 10-20 in the second, and so on up to 90. The horizontal rows, on the other hand, had 5 numbered squares and 4 blank squares in a random arrangement. There were chips numbered 1 to 90 and each lotto card was different from the other. Players were dealt a single card and the caller drew a wooden, numbered token from a cloth bag and read the number aloud. The players would continue to scratch the number appearing on the card and the first one to cover a horizontal row would be declared the winner.

German Tombola

In the 19th century, the present-day bingo reached Germany and took the shape of the German Tombola. The game was then used as an educational tool to help children learn multiplication tables, spelling, and facts from history, and so on. German Tombola was played by the adults too, in gatherings or at the end of the event. In it, players pay for a ticket and they draw these tickers from tombola drum at random.

Erwin S. Lowe’s Patent (1942)

The modern card design of Amerian Bingo, as it is today, was first invented and patented by Erwin S. Lowe in 1942. In fact, there is evidence that he was also the one responsible for the name, Bingo, dubbed in the US in 1929. Erwin S. Lowe was a toy manufacturer from Long Island and he had played the game in a Georgia carnival where the game was called ‘beano’ because of the beans used to mark the numbers on the cards.

The story goes that Lowe loved this game so much that he took it upon himself to popularize the game. While playing the game, one of his friends had shouted ‘bingo’ instead of beano and from there originated the name, ‘bingo’. Lowe had then gone on to print cards and increase the number of possible combinations on the cards. He packaged it as a comprehensive game and sold it under the name of Bingo.

erwin s. lowe bingo card patent schematics
The patented design of the Bingo card by Erwin S. Lowe (via

Gaming Act 1960

The Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 was a British Act of Parliament that came into effect on 1st January 1961. The act legalized additional forms of gambling in the UK. The act was passed on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries, and Gaming. The aim was to allow gambling for small sums in games of skills, including that of bingo so that gambling could be taken off the streets. Till the year 1965, more than 15,000 licenses had been granted by local magistrates. The establishment of the Mecca Bingo was somewhat the consequence of this Gaming Act of 1960.

Mecca Bingo

mecca bingo logo

Mecca Bingo is a UK-based company operating 76 bingo clubs, based in the major cities and towns of the UK. Mecca Bingo is basically owned by The Rank Group, which operates the online gambling scenario as well as land-based casinos and bingos in the UK, Belgium, and Spain. Mecca Bingo is headquartered in Maidenhead and was established in 1961. It is the largest National Bingo Game operator in the UK with an operating profit of £28.9 million, recorded in June 2015.

The Rank Organisation

The Rank Organisation (now known as The Rank Group) came into existence in April 1937, founded by Industrialist J. Arthur Rank. It has been incredibly influential in the popularisation of Bingo in the United Kingdom through the acquisition of Mecca Bingo as well as having operated multiple bingo halls.

Today, The Rank Group, is a large British gambling and leisure company, operating across the UK, Belgium, and Spain. The organization is headquartered in Maidenhead. The rank organization had quickly become one of the most vertically integrated companies in the UK with multiple operations spanning across production, distribution, and exhibition.

Beginnings of Online Bingo

The emergence of Online Bingo happened in the USA in 1996 with the first-ever bingo site called Bingo Zone, coming into play. Although this site was very basic in style and functionality, it actually paved the way for online bingo to flourish and eventually become what it is today.

By the year 2000, there were about 20 bingo sites that players could choose from. In the UK, the first site to be launched was Bingo Blitz and it offered players the opportunity to win cash prizes online. By 2012, most of the online bingo sites have been made compatible with tablets and mobile devices and also linked to social media networking sites as well. The platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter played an important role in developing the community feels among bingo enthusiasts.

In 2013, the online bingo market had already become worth £259 million, which has increased to over £1 billion today. In the present day, there are 252 digital bingo sites in the UK with more than 3.5 million people playing the game. With more players, the jackpots are higher and the community gets larger. The introduction of mobile apps has further led to a new generation of players being drawn to bingo. The bingo sites, as they are today, have chat room facilities along with social hubs and forums.

History of Bingo: FAQ

Answers to the most common questions about the history of the game of bingo.

Who invented Bingo?

Bingo, as it is called and played today, was invented by Erwin S. Lowe. Though, like many other gambling games, the game as we know it today exists thanks to multiple cultural iterations.

In which country did the game of Bingo originate?

Bingo originated in Italy in 1530 as Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, or ll Gioco del Lotto-d’Italia. It was then popular in France and soon after in the United Kingdom in which it really has a massive cultural impact still to this day.

When was Bingo invented?

Whilst the origin of the modern game of bingo is unclear, it is believed that bingo originated in the 1500s in Italy, and the modern Bingo game was invented in the early 1920s by Hugh J. Ward of Pittsburgh.

What has Erwin Lowe patented?

Erwin S. Lowe, a toy manufacturer, patented the modern bingo card design in 1942. Erwin S. Lowe also created the popular game of Yahtzee.

How many balls did the original bingo have?

Traditionally, bingo was played with 75 balls though new variations of the game emerged in different parts of the world. In the UK, standard bingo is played with 90 balls.

When is the National Bingo Day?

National Bingo Day is celebrated on June 27 to celebrate the huge popularity of the game.

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