Bingo is a truly British phenomenon. At its height, hundreds of thousands of people were turning out almost every day of the week to enjoy one of the first mass social events that helped people to network and meet new friends. Although it was once firmly cemented as a fun night out, less people are visiting physical bingo halls across the country, a decline which is steady but could tip at any moment.
Starting out as a lottery based game that originated in medieval Italy before finding its way into carnivals all over Europe, the game was transformed into its contemporary form by a certain Edwin S. Lowe, who took the basic lottery game and brought it to the mainstream both in Europe and the US. Not only did he create and patent the modern bingo card as we know it, but he also decided on the name ‘bingo’. Players in the early days would shout ‘beano’ If they filled their card, but one of his friends shouted ‘bingo’ by accident and the new name stuck.
Bingo in the UK really kicked off after the end of World War 2. As morals and culture changed rapidly, people were socialising more and playing bingo in pubs, at home and at social events. The realisation that money could be made from larger games created a demand for purpose built bingo halls and between the 40s and 60s, the game fully entered the UK social scene.
Bingo halls became very large, sometimes sitting thousands of people and requiring lots of staff and well trained callers. The buildings the game was initially played in were often dance halls or theatres, with a large floor space that could fit lots of tables and a stage that was ideal for the caller to be seen and heard by all.
The ideal setup can already be seen at brand new bingo halls. Large tables help groups of friends to sit together on a well spaced out floor with a layout that is designed so everyone can hear the bingo caller. The room itself should help to create an atmosphere, so when someone wins, the crowd erupts, adding to the excitement. The caller needs to be aided by a digital bingo machine, with numbers projected onto big screens to help players who fall behind when checking off their cards.
Bars and a kitchen should provide quality food and drinks and there can even be other gaming rooms, featuring slot games or other arcade games. Facilities need to be clean and modern and little touches like extra staff, background music away from the playing floor and well chosen colour schemes should make the bingo hall somewhere where people want to spend time, not just head their for a few games and some expensive drinks.
The difficulty that modern bingo halls are facing is that numbers are declining. Online gaming has exploded over the last decade or so and more people are accessing things like online casinos and online bingo websites. Sites like Wink Bingo offer a comprehensive bingo experience that doesn’t lack the same fun games, social experience or huge jackpots, all of which make a visit to a physical bingo hall redundant. Wink Bingo in particular often has better jackpots than the high street and games entry fees as low as a penny, allowing players to play for longer periods of time. This ease of access and more profitable form of bingo has created a huge renewed interest in the game that hasn’t really benefited the traditional bingo hall.
Bingo halls are also struggling with modernisation. Whether it’s old-fashioned decor, sticky carpets or damaged furniture and facilities, some bingo halls are plagued by the need for a refit. This is difficult however when profit margins are tight, so many providers simply have to plaster over the cracks to ensure their facility stays open.
It’s a shame that some bingo halls are struggling to get customers, but bingo has become a victim of its own success. The online experience is not only getting better, but it is also appealing to the next generation of bingo players. The big question is whether physical bingo halls can also use technology to attract new players, offering their own online experience which somehow involves a trip to a bingo hall. Even this strategy will eventually fall down however, when virtual reality becomes good enough to completely replicate a modern bingo hall, reducing the chances of a visit to a town centre or retail park for a game of bingo even further. It seems the perfect bingo hall of the future may be made out of pixels.