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How Technology has Transformed Bingo

If you’d have asked a Brit about bingo just twenty years ago, you’d have heard jokes about old ladies and church halls. If that’s still your view of this great game today, you’re a million miles off the mark. Going online has revitalised bingo and taken it global. It’s a growing part of vibrant gaming sector as our 2015 Bingo Infographic shows.

2015 Advanced Bingo Statistics Report

The old stereotype might have been miles off (though most stereotypes contain at least a few grains of truth) but that was how the game was perceived. The latest bingo market update suggests things are a galaxy away from that world now.

And its decline was visible. As cinema had collapsed, many of the impressive picture palaces that most towns boasted found a new life as bingo halls. But now these too, part of big empires run by the likes of Gala Bingo, were starting to close or find new uses.

That decline saw the number of bingo halls fall from around 800 at the game’s peak to fewer than 400 in the 2000s.

All sorts of changing demographic and economic reasons played into that decline. Changing fashions too – who plays shove halfpenny today? And as bingo came to be seen as old and stuck in the mud, so its appeal was further weakened. Where were the new players going to come from? Even if the game remained a fun and potentially rewarding pastime, youngsters would rather be seen dead than in the local bingo hall.

Those players who did persist in playing in the real world faced a further challenge to their routines when the smoking ban came into force in 2007. Bingo players came from the social and age groups that were most likely to smoke. Having a ciggie at the game table or bar was part of the experience for a lot of them. Forcing older people out into the freezing British weather if they wanted to light up, posed another threat to the bricks-and-mortar bingo experience.

But something else has happened in that time. While it’s probably too late to stop the slow decline of the old real-world bingo empires, it’s great for players, and it’s opened up a new front for some of the big bingo operators.

That’s the internet, of course. We take for granted today that almost everyone has internet access. It’s in every part of our lives. Want to buy something? You’ll probably go online at some point in the process. Meeting friends? Get it sorted on Facebook. Newspapers, TV, music, film… they’re all being consumed and threatened by free online access.

But this new way of interacting with players doesn’t threaten bingo. It’s a wagering game, so some cash has to change hands. Players are used to paying to play online. While players have been enjoying years of free access to, for example, newspapers, asking for payment now is an extremely difficult thing for the industry to do.

The first commercial Dial-up Internet appeared in the UK in 1992, provided by Pipex. By 1998, there were 8 million or so UK internet users, and then growth really started to mushroom. In 1999, it was 12.5 million, the next year more than 15 million, in 2001 almost 20 million, in 2003 more than 36 million. Things plateaued around there for a while, before another growth spurt saw around 46 million users in 2008.

That coincides roughly with the arrival and general take-up of broadband. By 2007 nearly half of UK homes had the new superfast internet that meant you could watch TV and films, listen to music and play increasingly sophisticated games.

The technology has got better and become more affordable, and will continue to do so. One of the industries that has made the most of every step-change in online connectivity is the gaming industry, inspired perhaps at first by a space that seemed to transcend national boundaries and regulatory jurisdictions.

The first bingo sites predated reliable ways of sending cash over the web. Bingo Zone, opened in 1996 along with Cyberbingo, made money by collecting information on its players and then hitting them with targeted advertising. This is a model that news and media organisations are trying to make work today.

But to really matter, bingo has to involve the chance of winning prizes. And it was also in 1996 that the first online cash game was launched.

Just a year later, Virtual Holdings Limited was launched. If the name isn’t familiar how about Cassava, the company that they would become? No? Well, try 888, the front name for most of their operations and that’s close to becoming a household name in the UK. Although Dragonfish is a less well-known brand, it’s also part of Cassava, and it’s the platform on which many online bingo sites operate.

In the early 2000s, British independents started to appear offering bingo. Think Bingo was the first of these. Foxy Bingo, still with us and still prospering, was launched in 2005. In 2009, Cheeky Bingo was the first site to offer cash prizes to players in free games.

It’s a big and competitive business. Cassava splashed out $43.4 million on the bingo sites owned by Globalcom. In 2000, 888 – part of Cassava remember – bought Daub’s sites, including Wink Bingo, a big, popular name. Party and Cashcade merged in 2010.

And now there’s another new frontier for the balls of bingo.

The internet never stands still for very long. And today’s browser is more and more eschewing desktop computers for tablets and smartphones – why type when you can tap? Bingo’s changing to accommodate this new way of going online. Fortunately, bingo, a simple graphical game, usually served up with similarly eye-catching slots on the side, works very well on small screens.

Another new market is opening up on social media, the way the world now talks to (and shouts at) itself. In 2011, the first Facebook bingo game appeared, Wonder Bingo. UK sites have long had social media pages offering extras for players, and a place to meet – bingo in halls was the most social of gambling games. Now, the whole game is shifting to popular social media platforms.

And today we find this reflected in a game and a business that is booming. The pressure on bricks-and-mortar businesses has continued, though, as the game has migrated to the 21st century’s business front line, the internet, and increasingly the mobile internet.

In fact, gaming, in general, has exploded thanks to the internet. That bingo – that dowdy old game – has surfed this wave will have surprised many industry experts. But it reflects a simple truth: it’s an excellent, exciting and entertaining game!

This rush to the web is changing everything from the types of people who play to the sorts of games they play.

Hityah.com's 2015 Bingo Statistics

Figures continue to confirm the bingo boom in a booming gaming sector.

In 2015, the UK online gaming market was worth £27 billion. To put some context on that figure, it’s the same amount that the UK oil and gas supply chain generates in sales each year. It’s 6% of GDP at 2014 levels; that’s the sum of everything the whole UK economy produces!

Not all of that figure money was wagered – it includes the total value of businesses - but the sector is also booming off- and online. In 2014, £7.1 billion was spent on gaming in the UK. The 2015 bingo financial report is just as staggering, with £659,350,000 of that total spent on bingo. Spending on gaming was up 5% year on year – and remember that’s in an economy that’s still struggling and grew less than 3% in total in 2014. Gaming growth is bucking the trends.

This is good news for everyone because this growth means employment. While the trend has been away from bricks-and-mortar businesses, the UK bingo sector still employs 14,000 people.

As well as being large and growing, the UK gaming sector is still diverse, with under a fifth of the money companies “win” from punters coming from online players. Straight forward betting is still the biggest payer for UK companies in the industry.

Internationally, the UK is the world bingo giant, with nearly twice as many players as its closest rival, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The game is big in Eastern Europe, with Romania coming third in the world charts and Bulgaria also in the top 10. Ireland is fourth.

This dominance means a lot of cash is being spent by British bingo fans online. The estimated worth of the UK online bingo market is £218,449,208. This is around the same amount the UK government spends on our space programme.

This enormous sum is coming from nearly half a million players who log on each month. If those 465,000 players spend the same amount of cash on the game each, they’re stumping up about £470 each a year.

The stereotype of a bingo player is of a middle-aged or older woman. It’s classically considered a 'house wife’s' game. No doubt there is still some truth in that view, but things do seem to be changing, especially now the game has gone online.

Currently, 85% of bingo players are women and 15% men. But like many of these figures this isn’t a perfect statistic. It’s even been reported that some men log on to accounts under female names because they’re worried about being stigmatised!

And while many players are long-term bingo fans - 39% have been playing for over five years - more are newcomers to the game. 38% have played for less than two years, and 23% for between two and three years.

With lots of players willing to spend on the game they love, there are lots of sites. The business of bingo can be complicated. Big operators own many sites, branding the front end in wildly different ways while 'networking' the big prize games across all sites. In fact, “it’s just another…” is a common complaint of players discussing new sites on forums.

But there’s still plenty of diversity. There are 209 remote (i.e. online) bingo licences. A recent change in gaming regulation meant that all sites with UK players had to have a UK licence – previously many were licensed offshore – and in March 2015 the UK Gambling Commission licensed 49 operators.

It’s a fast moving market too, in 2014, according to the BBC there were around 350 sites, so the licensing changes have probably forced a few overseas operators out of the scene.

The big names boast fantastic stats. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest sites today, a bingo report 2015:

Site Name Traffic Per Month

Tombola.co.uk

249,000

Galabingo.co.uk

264,000

Meccabingo.co.uk

199,000

Sunbingo.co.uk

147,000
Foxybingo.co.uk 144,000
Costabingo.co.uk 73,200
Cheekybingo.co.uk 61,000
Winkbingo.co.uk 56,000

So bingo, which has been going in one form or another since the 16th century continues to change, to grow and to prosper. That’s probably because, at its heart, it’s a very simple, quick-to-learn game. While the bells and whistles get ever louder, the drop of the balls remains just as compelling.

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