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The Origins of Bingo: The History of Bingo Explained
By Charlie Myer - September 08, 2016
Bingo is played and loved by millions of people around the world. Today, the game is played in Bingo halls, as well as online through reputable websites. How to win is simple: a person just has to collect five numbers in a preset row, column or diagonal pattern. A typical Bingo hall is filled with players huddled around their collection of cards, marking off numbers, and waiting to jump out of their seats to shout that coveted word: “Bingo!”
Bingo has been played for decades through the generations as a way to have fun and socialize without spending a fortune. So how did this popular game come to existence?
Where, When and How Did Bingo Begin?
It is believed that Bingo initially began 500 years ago in the colorful country of Italy. It is linked to the Italian lottery called Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia or Lo Giuoco del Lotto which can be literally translated to: “The Clearance of the Lot of Italy”. This was part of a brilliant plan of the government in 1530 to raise funds to finance public initiatives.
So this is how it worked: The players would gather once a week to bet on numbers that would be drawn from ten wheels. These ten wheels were even named after a city in Italy – Milan, Naples, Bariums, Cagliar, Genoa, Rome Palermo, Venice and Turin.
Additional fun fact: Lo Giuoco del Lotto is still being played today! Through this game, the government of Italy earns up to 75 million US dollars per year.
Bingo in France
Lo Giuoco del Lotto made its way to France in the 18th century and began morphing into the Bingo that we know today. In France, it was called Le Lotto. By the year 1778, it was one of the most popular kinds of betting in the country. It was first popular among the upper classes, but it was eventually played and enjoyed by everyone. The players of Le Lotto received cards that had nine columns and three rows that contained five random numbers and four blank squares. As numbered tokens are pulled from a bag, the players would cover their squares until someone would have a fully-covered horizontal row and win the game.
Before Bingo received its popular name, it was first called “Beano”. Beano was very popular in carnivals back in the 1920s. It was not until Edwin S. Lowe came along that the name of the game changed – literally! Lowe decided to test the game of Beano in his apartment with his friends. It is rumored that when one of his friends became so thrilled at winning, she shouted “B-b-b-b-bingo!” instead of “Beano!”
Lowe figured that the game would become so popular, so he tweaked the game and packaged it as “Bingo”.
How a Fundraising Event Changed the Fate of Bingo
How Bingo eventually turned into the format that we know too well today is because of an interesting story of a church fundraising event.
A parishioner adopted Lowe’s Bingo as a means to raise funds for the church. But because of the low-count cards, the parishioner realized that he could not reach the fundraising goals needed to meet the church’s financial woes.
So he did what any panicked person did: He went to Lowe and asked him to change the game in order to make it more competitive. So Lowe decided that the cards needed more numbers that would result in more combinations. He worked with a math professor from Columbia University named Carl Leffler who helped him create the new 5x5 cards with 6,000 variations. Leffler even wrote those variations in cards by hand!
When this version of Bingo was played, it spread like wildfire. Lowe got thousands of letters asking him to set up multiple Bingo tournaments. He had to hire one thousand employees to work on printing presses in order to make new cards 24 hours a day. There were around 10,000 tournaments per week running in the 1930s. The largest game recorded happened in New York Teaneck Armory. This tournament had over 60,000 players!
The Bingo We Know and Love Today
Today, Bingo can be played on the internet through laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The first online Bingo site was established back in 1996. This began a whole new world of opportunities to play Bingo. New versions of the bingo can be found every day.
It has been a long journey through history for this beloved game. The great thing about reading this journey is seeing how truly global Bingo is. And although Bingo went through changes and tweaks in the past centuries, the spirit of fun it brings is something that hasn’t changed at all.