How Bingo became a Booming business

The game of bingo was first played in Italy under the name of Lo Giuoco del Lotto or the Italian National Lottery in the year 1530. The game is still played on Saturdays and has helped the Italian treasury collect revenues up to a billion Euros every year. The highest win ever recorded was about 150 million Euros or 128,000,000 Pounds Sterling on 22nd August, 2009, by a person from Tuscany.



The game of bingo has different names in different countries. It is called Lotto or Tombola in European countries, Housey in the UK and Beano in the USA.

The game of Lotto would be played in Italy at all family gatherings on weekends and occasions like Christmas. Even the children were allowed to play this game. Cost of each card would be kept low and small prizes would be given to winners. A caller would draw the numbers ranging from 1 to 90 from a sack at random and call them out. The wooden discs containing the called number would be laid down on a table having a matrix of 90 squares.

In France, upper classes adopted this Italian game and made it very popular among the gentry. Later on, the French Revolution changed matters and the game took a back seat.

The Germans adopted this bingo game as a tool for teaching mathematics to their children. The game spread slowly in other countries too, and was brought to UK in 1918 by the British troops returning home after the First World War. The bingo game reached immense popularity and was successful commercially only when it reached America in 1929.

A toy salesman named Edwin Lowe, on his way to Georgia from New York, chanced upon the bingo game in a county fair. He saw the owner calling out numbers and the players covering the same number on their cards with beans. Whenever anybody completed covering a line on the card, he would shout out “Beano”, and would be given a Kewpie doll as a prize.

Edwin Lowe was so impressed with the addictive nature of the game, that on his return, he called his friends in New York to join him in a game of bingo. One day, while the game was in progress in his house, a lady friend, unable to hold back her excitement, called out “Bingo” instead of Beano, on winning a line. Edwin Lowe liked the new name and the name stuck. Edwin Lowe started a thriving business by selling 12 bingo cards for 1 dollar and 24 bingo cards for 2 dollars.

A Catholic priest from Pennsylvania saw the game and asked Lowe to use the game to raise funds to build his church. This caused a new problem to appear as the prize money had to be shared by more winners holding cards with the same numbers.

Edwin Lowe appointed Carl Leffler, a mathematics professor from Columbia University, to solve this problem. By the end of 1930, Leffler could design 6000 bingo cards, each with its own set of random numbers, but the pressure made him go insane. From 1934 onwards, more than 10,000 bingo games are played every day. Today almost 90 million dollars change hands daily due to this game of bingo.

A change in the gambling laws in UK enacted by the Macmillan government, gave a huge boost to the game of bingo. The owner of MECCA, Eric Morley, converted all cinema halls which had closed down due to the onslaught of television, into Mecca Bingo halls all over UK. Soon other entrepreneurs followed suit, and more and more people flocked to Mecca Bingo halls instead watching football matches.

Today, all the major companies holding bingo games have gone online. The online bingo games can be played from home without any restrictions about smoking and with no restrictions on dress codes. It is the greatest attraction with huge prize monies to be won sitting in the comfort of your homes. The business generated by online bingo sites seems to be going straight up with no downturn visible in the near future.

Gamble Aware ( is managed by the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, an independent charity which funds treatment, research and education about responsible gambling. The website has been developed by a Task Force made up of representatives from the Gambling Commission, DCMS, academia and industry.

Gary Beal

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