Bingo has been a popular game in the US for over a century, but in actual fact its history can be traced all the way back to the 1530s. It was in that decade that Italy first begun a state-wide lottery called the “Lo Gloco del Lotto d’Italia”, which still exists with a slight variation even today.
The game was seized upon by the French, who formed their own lotto in the late 1700s but with a twist. The French version of the game saw players use a playing card with 9 columns and 3 rows, with four free squares on each row. The caller picked out wooden chips with numbers 1-90 engraved on them from a bag, with the winner being the first to strike out a whole row of their numbers. The game was incredibly popular, and it’s no surprise that it spread and eventualy found its way to the US too.
The game of bingo was still somewhat primitive when it first arrived in the US, only played among friends with no established rules. One such game was witnessed by a traveling salesman called Edwin Lowe in the late 1890s, while he attended a carnival in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time, the players called the game “beano” because they used dried beans to fill in their cards as the game progressed. When a player successfully marked all of the numbers on their card, they would yell out “beano!” to show that they’d won.
Lowe was fascinated by the game, and insisted on playing it with his friends once he returned to his home in New York City. The game was so popular that Lowe went on to establish the first official venue for it in the city. It was during one game at his venue that an unnamed woman accidentally shouted at “Bingo” instead of the correct word when she won, and somehow the name stuck. Bingo as we know it, was born.
The game grew so popular that numerous bingo halls sprung up, up and down the country. By the mid-1930s, Bingo was being played nationwide as numerous churches and social clubs launched their own regular games, having realized its potential for fund-raising.
These days, bingo is a legal game in 48 U.S. states, with venues ranging from 1,800 seated community halls to smaller church basements. With the rise of Internet gaming, online bingo has become arguably even more popular than the physical game. There are numerous popular bingo sites where players can win hundreds if not thousands of dollars in a single game.
One of the reasons for bingo’s popularity is that it’s more than just a game. In fact, it’s almost a social scene where players go to hang out for the day at their local bingo hall, meet with their friends, talk and try to win some money.
So popular is bingo that it’s impossible to define a stereotypical “bingo player”. While many players are older, surveys show that bingo is becoming increasingly popular with younger generations too, and with both men and women.