Bingo History

Bingo historyThe Bingo history dates back a few centuries, and has evolved over the years into the game a lot of people love today. For most people the word “bingo” conjures up the melody to the famous singalong ditty or a gaggle of blue-haired old ladies struggling to hear the numbers being called.

While the game does occupy a special place within the realm of Americana, and indeed, the elderly have been known to frequent bingo halls on occasion, the number-based lottery style game actually holds deep historical roots. Dating back to 1530 and the development of Italy’s first National Lottery – known then as Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia – the ancestor of modern bingo is nearly five centuries old.

The original game of Lotto involved a playing card lined with three horizontal rows and nine vertical columns. This 9×3 grid was filled with random numbers, with five numbers and four blank spaces occupying the rows, and the columns containing three random numbers from sets ranging from 1-10, 11-20, and so on down the line. To play Lotto, Italians both rich and poor ponied up a certain amount of coin to purchase a playing card, which was then covered with tokens as a caller drew numbered plaques from a cloth bag. If a player heard a number which was found on their card, they’d cover it with a token, and whenever somebody managed to cover an entire row of spaces with tokens they would win the prize.

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Lotto Expanded and Became Bingo

Like most regional creations at the time, Lotto was slowly transported throughout the European continent and beyond by travelers during the subsequent centuries, with word of mouth circulation creating dozens of subtle variations and offshoots over that time. When an American carnival barker found himself passing through Germany in 1928, a version of Lotto was still being played in earnest by the local populace. The carnival worker took note of the enthusiasm with which players enjoyed this interesting lottery game, and upon his return to the U.S., he began running his own version of Lotto under tent tops all over the South.

Edwin Lowe

BEANO bingoCalling the game “beano,” the man wound up in a county fair outside of Jacksonville, Georgia in 1929, and as usual, the local crowds had grown enamored with the fun. When a toy salesman out of New York City by the name of Edwin S. Lowe took note of the bustling crowds and cries of joy, he had a fateful stroke of inspiration. Quietly observing the crowds of beano players trying to fill their cards, and laughing all the while, Lowe watched as the hour crept well past midnight, with no game to the end in sight.

Motivated to replicate the game’s success outside of the carnival setting, and in desperate search of a breakthrough game for his struggling toy company in the wake of the devastating stock market crash, Lowe returned to New York intent on developing his own tabletop version of beano. According to commonly accepted lore, beano became “bingo” quite by accident, when Lowe decided to give a demonstration of his creation for friends and family. With those on hand soon wrapped up in the game’s chase to fill the card, one woman in attendance was overcome by emotion when she finally cleared the last space needed. Rushing to yell “beano! ” the woman fumbled her words a bit and out came “B-b-bingo!” as she announced her triumph. Lowe immediately recognized his good fortune when he heard the word slip out, firmly believing that this new name would be the key to separating his game from beano.

“I cannot describe the strange sense of elation which that girl’s cry brought to me,” Lowe said later about the life-changing moment. “All I could think of was that I was going to come out with this game, and it was going to be called Bingo!”

Beano Bingo Pushed Out the Competition

Ever the entrepreneur, Lowe started selling bingo sets in two distinct packaging deals, one containing 12 playing cards for $1, and another doubling both the card count and the cost. Unable to trademark the game itself due to the game’s longstanding historical origins and presence within the public domain, Lowe’s version soon featuring the bingo name soon became the only game that mattered.

As the game’s simplicity, entertainment value, and ability to generate funds quickly caught on, churches, parishes, community clubs, schools, and other organizations began hosting bingo games in order to solicit donations. Players in attendance could still win tidy amounts of cash for filling a card, all while helping to contribute substantial sums for local community groups. As the game of bingo grew like wildfire, Lowe found himself unable to keep up with increased demand for the non-repeating, randomized number sequences needed to create bingo cards.

Carl Leffler

Bingo CardLowe turned to Carl Leffler, a professor of mathematics at Columbia University, to assist in developing thousands of these singularly unique, random bingo cards.

As a result, production and manufacture of the game could continue uninhibited, and by 1934 news agencies reported that more than 10,000 bingo games took place nationwide on a weekly basis.

Current Bingo Popularity

Recommended iconToday, bingo is a staple social function at club lodges, convention halls, community recreation centers, churches, and other gathering points. New variations on original bingo are created every year, adding variety and giving players something new to look forward to when heading to the bingo hall. Online casinos have also readily adapted the game for play over the internet, and you’ll find hundreds of sites offering online bingo games for fun or real money. After nearly five centuries of continuous play, the game of bingo has become a cornerstone for several cultures, American and otherwise, while providing society with a glimpse into the positive aspects of gambling games.