Do you remember playing bingo as a child? The excitement of filling up your game board, getting closer and closer to yelling out, “Bingo!” and finally winning was exhilarating. As you got older, you might have noticed that you could win some pretty hefty jackpots at casinos, bingo halls and online. The game is often associated with something that elderly people play in nursing homes. However, it has been played for centuries by all kinds of individuals.
Italians have been playing a game similar to bingo during the country’s weekly lottery since 1530 or earlier, according to History Today. Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia was used to raise money for various public projects. People had to pay taxes on their winnings. Some people won privileges and real estate instead of cash.
The game involved pulling the names of people who had purchased tickets at the same time as prize notifications were drawn. It was a straightforward process, but the game could go on for days while every name was selected. Betting on the numbers soon became popular and increased players’ chances of winning big.
The bingo grid is thought to have come from France’s “Le Lotto,” which originated in 1778. Lotteries were nothing new for the French. However, the game card, which contained three rows of nine squares, was a novel concept. This game board is the basis for 90-ball bingo, the version that is popular in the UK.
Educators soon realized that they could use the bingo concept to teach children. Versions of the game became popular in Germany to explain multiplication. When American Hugh J. Ward saw people playing it at German carnivals, he became intrigued. He returned to the U.S. and standardized the rules for playing the game at American carnivals.
It was called Beano at the time. Players would stand around a table with numbered cards. The caller would randomly select numbers from a container and call them out.
If a player had a number on one of his cards, he would place a bean on its location. The first person to fill in a full line of beans was required to yell, “Beano!” to win.
Struggling toymaker Ed Lowe witnessed the game at a Georgia carnival in 1929. Some stories say that the caller of the game that Lowe watched was Ward himself.
Lowe loved the idea and bought materials to play it with friends when he returned to his New York home. It was a hit. Lowe’s friends became addicted to the game, and they would get together frequently to play in small groups.
According to the New York Times, Lowe was playing with his buddies when one player excitedly called out, “Bingo!” upon winning. The entrepreneur decided to print the cards and sell the game as Bingo.
Milton Bradley bought Lowe’s company for $26 million in 1973.
Bingo as A Fund Raiser
After putting the game on the market, Lowe was visited by a priest from Pennsylvania. The man needed to get his church out of financial troubles, and a parishioner had suggested using Lowe’s bingo game to do so. He purchased several sets of Lowe’s game and held an event to raise money for the church.
Although the idea proved to have potential, the priest discovered a problem. When that many people played bingo, there were too many winners. More than 12 people could win one round, forcing the church to dole out a hefty sum to the winners. The cards would have to be printed with more number combinations for bingo to be productive for fund raising.
Lowe reached out to Columbia University mathematics professor Carl Leffler. He challenged the expert to come up with 6,000 cards with unique number groups. Because the task was so difficult, Leffler kept increasing his fee. Lowe ended up paying $100 for Leffler to come up with some of the cards.
The mathematician eventually succeeded, although some say that he went crazy as a result.
Bingo Began To Spread
By the early 1930s, more than 10,000 bingo games were held across the nation every week, according to The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Volume 2. Organizations found that the game was a perfect way to build community.
It was inexpensive to join in. Many people patiently sat through rounds and rounds of the game, hoping to win a little extra money or practical prizes. At the time, winnings included tins of coffee or boxes of groceries.
Some people complained that the game encouraged gambling. However, most people welcomed the chance to try their luck at little cost.
As people who enjoyed church bingo got older, they continued to play. Bingo is now a staple at many nursing homes and retirement communities. Playing the game is a simple way to keep the mind sharp as the population ages.
Some casinos and bingo halls offer bingo sessions throughout the day. Bingo is also available on many online gaming and casino websites. Because the game requires players to match numbers, it must be held in real time with several players. Even if you play online, you may have to wait until enough people show up to play.
Free and paid versions of the game are played in various organizations across the globe. Children’s versions of the game are available for education or leisure. Travel bingo is a popular version that’s used to keep kids occupied in the car.
Lowe never trademarked the name. Therefore, the term “bingo” can be used by anyone to describe one of the many variations.
The word has also come to mean “to announce an unexpected event or instantaneous result.” Merriam-Webster states that the term “bingo” was first used in 1903, which would pre-date the story about Lowe’s friend confusing the word with “Beano” when she won the game. Whether or not you believe that’s true, you can agree that bingo is a well-known term. It’s also a familiar game that will probably stick around for decades to come.