Bingo is a well-travelled game. It started out in Italy in the 16th century as a form of lottery and migrated to France in the late 1770s to become “Le Lotto.” By the time it reached the country fairs of the United States in 1929, it was called “Beano,” a reference to uncooked beans used as markers to cover numbers on the cards, which had five rows and five columns of numbers with a “free” space in the very center.
When a New York toy salesman named Edwin Lowe heard a winner mispronounce the game and shout “bingo” at a carnival, he got the idea to rename it. The new moniker stuck, and soon Catholic churches adopted it as a fundraising social event.
In the UK, the game was popular among soldiers in the trenches and barracks during World War I under the name “Housey-Housey.” The original cards or “tickets” featured three lines of five numbers. Then, like their American counterparts, the small liberal churches of England started using the game under the name “Tombola” to draw crowds and raise funds. It was a huge hit, especially with women. To avoid association with gambling, prizes were often awarded to winners instead of cash.
In 1960, the Betting and Gaming Act legitimised existing social gaming. Clubs soon formed, adopting the U.S. brand “Bingo.” Some of the first Bingo Halls were actually cinemas that had been losing audiences to television. A new cottage industry sprung up and grew until it covered Great Britain, eventually spreading to the Internet, where it now embraces a vast following.
Today, two very popular and very different versions of Bingo are played. The U.K.’s 90-ball version still employs tickets with 15 numbers scattered over three rows with five numbers in each row. The tickets are sold in strips of six, with no number repeated, so there are 90 numbers in all.
As the bingo balls are called, the player marks off the numbers, looking to win by being the first to cross off five numbers in a line on a single ticket, or two full lines on one ticket, or a “full house” covering all 15 numbers. Winners shout out “house,” which derives from the old game of “Housey-Housey.”
The U.S. version still features a 25-box grid with 24 numbers and the central “free” space. It is played with 75 balls, numbered and given column designations as follows: numbers 1~15 fall in the B column, 16~30 go in the I column, 31~45 in the N column (which also holds the free space), 46~60 in the G column, and 61~75 in the O column.
As balls are drawn, the bingo caller names them by column and number: B-6, G-51, B-10, and so on. Those players who have multiple cards have to pay close attention, because a called number may appear on more than one card or none of them. To win the basic game, a player must be the first cover five numbers in a row, a column, or a diagonal. More advanced games may involve other patterns, such as four corners, the letter T or L, a “coverall” or “blackout” marking every number on the card, etc. Winning patterns are announced prior to the start of each game.
Obviously there are many differences in the two games. The U.K. 90-ball version tends to be played much faster. The U.S. 75-ball version offers greater variety. There are many similarities, too. In both versions, there can be multiple winners per game. In such cases, prizes are shared equally.
When playing bingo with paper cards or tickets in a real Bingo Hall, players use big coloured markets called “daubers” to mark their tickets/cards. When playing online, the marking of cards is handled automatically, which means players never miss out on an opportunity to claim “bingo” or “house.”