History of Bingo – where did it all start?

The history of bingo is not easy to detail with confidence. It is littered with vague accounts and inconsistencies. And then there is the question of when bingo actually began. It didn’t just start up one day. Gambling has been a leisure past time for thousands of years. All these ‘games of chance’ have developed over time. And this is possibly more true with the history of bingo than other gambling games.

The game of bingo originated from lottery games which spread throughout Europe in the 16th century. These games were based purely on chance – dependant upon the drawing of random numbers. They then altered over the centuries to become the game we know today. But this was a very gradual process.

history of bingo

History of Bingo – when was the first recognisable game?

The English archaeologist John Stephens was travelling in Mexico in around 1838. He described in detail the game of ‘La Lotteria’. A caller drew numbered balls from a bag and called each in turn. Players used a large sheet of numbers from 1 – 90 lined up in rows of five. As a number was called they used grains of corn to cover that number. Whoever was first to cover a whole row won the purse.

Of course this is simply the first recorded instance. It is thought that the British Navy began to play around this time. There was a large garrison stationed in Malta from 1814. And it was quite possibly from the Maltese that they learnt to play.

It was definitely being played in the forces by the end of the 1800’s. The Army called it ‘Housey-Housey’ and the Navy ‘Tombola’. But there is no record as to how either of these names came about. The game continued to be extremely popular in the forces up to – and during – the Second World War.


History of Bingo – when did it get called ‘Bingo’?

This is also very difficult to answer. The accepted story is that the name ‘bingo’ was coined by an American toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe. He definitely used the term when he sold his commercially produced bingo tickets. But why did he use this phrase?

It’s said that he was watching a game during a country fair in Georgia in 1929. This was basically the game described previously. But beans were used to cover the numbers instead of corn. Due to the excitement of winning a lady accidently shouted ‘Bingo!‘ instead of ‘Beano!’ Lowe liked the name and used it for his product.

However, there are accounts of the game being known as ‘Bingo’ in the UK from 1928. But these are reminiscences only and they could easily be mistaken. But there are official reports of the name being used by the mid thirties in the UK. This is a very short time for the term to cross to this country and become widely used. Unlikely – but not impossible.

history of bingo

History of Bingo – when were bingo calls introduced?

Again – it’s very hard to say. By the late 1930’s there was a new process to choose the random numbers. There had been previous instances of the bingo caller fixing the game and calling incorrect numbers. So now the players took turns to throw a ball into a container with 90 numbered compartments. The player could see which number ‘came up’ and so all was considered fair. But this process took time. It is known that the bingo calls we now know were being used to cover this extra gap between calls. But that’s not to suggest that they started then.

In fact we know for sure – because it was recorded – that Army games of Housey-Housey in the 1930’s were using the exact same bingo calls we still recognise. Which of course explains why so many calls have a military origin.

But why? And how did they start? We still don’t know………


The Future of Bingo.

There has been a revival in recent years due to the advent of online bingo. Rather than create problems for the traditional bingo halls it instead seams to have increased awareness. We can now play electronic bingo in the bingo halls and mobile bingo on our phones.

Let’s hope it carries on this way!


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