It’s So Easy It Could Have Been Called Beano Not Bingo!

Written by Chris Baxter
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In the UK Bingo is a catchphrase that is forever, and rightly so, associated with a rapid victory, be it the game itself or at home, work, or social surroundings when something goes your way. In short, Bingo means to win.

The traditional and stereotypical image of Bingo in the UK is a smoked filled (before the smoking ban in public places in 2006) high ceiling halls made bright due to large windows and neon lights above, in coastal towns across the country. Halls with bright or red-purple carpets, as boisterous and excited players, from young families to pensioners, swap jokes and anecdotes before the game of bingo commences.

A man or a woman, the compere, walks onto the stage in an ill-fitting tuxedo, crooked bowtie in a creased shirt. Yet his or her appearance is of little consequence to the crowd, or their personality or social standing. All that matters to them are the numbered balls they pull out after they have spun the wire cage wheel. The players wait with bated breath to see if today is their lucky day.

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The compere announces, in a dramatic and passionate manner, ‘Man alive’, (5), ‘Unlucky for some’, (13), ‘In a state’, (28), ‘Life Begins’ (40), catchy rhymes and quirky names for numbers from 1- 90. This unique and recognised code was originally created in the early 60s when Bingo was taking off in the UK, and the halls, back then, did not have good in-house PA’s. So, the compere used words familiar to the player’s cultural identity, so they knew if they had the correct numbers for a win. Working Class creativity at its best, that went hand in hand, with the working-class creative boom of the sixties, of fashion, music, sport, films, and books.

The rules of Bingo in the UK are simple, 90 balls are placed into a wire cage, spun. The game host or compere pulls out and announces the number as they do this. The customer purchases, or is given, usually six tickets with 9 x 3 rows. And in these tickets are nine numbers, 1 to 90, if on one ticket they have all nine numbers, then they have won, and the winner will announce Bingo or House.

The rules of Bingo do differ slightly from country to country.

You probably know how simple the game is, you’ve probably said Bingo when something has gone your way, and probably used the bingo name/number code in a conversation, like if a friend, gets the number 13 for some reason, you will probably say, ‘unlucky for some’. The reason being is that Bingo is certainly part of Post War British culture. Yet how it came to these shores is an interesting journey, spanning many countries, many centuries, and many cultures.

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And it is Italy, where Bingo is thought to have been created, in 1530. An untimely lottery game called ‘Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia’, played on Saturdays. The rich French Elite adapted the Italian game in 1770 and called their version Le Lotto, yet their enjoyment of the game would change 29 years later, with The French Revolution of 1799. The following century the Germans adapted what was to become Bingo, yet this time not for gaming or gambling purpose, but as a study aid for children to help them develop their maths and spelling skills.

And the Bingo we know today came about in the USA and the 20th century with their adaptation, called Beano. A country fair game where a dealer would pick numbered cards from a box, usually a cigar box, and the player would place a bean on their card if their number was called out, and once they matched all the numbers, the delighted winner would shout beano! Hence the name.

That was about to change in 1929, when a New York toy salesman and businessman Edwin S. Lowe, was at a beano game at a carnival near Atlanta, Georgia, and when someone got all their beans, the victor declared beano. However, Lowe, or so the legend goes, mistook beano for bingo.

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Lowe seeing this ‘lost in translation’ as an opportunity, hired a Columbia University maths professor, Carl Leffler, to create the cards with numbers and different combinations that reduced the chances of repeat winners or groups, so a winner of that game would be the only winner. Lowe ditched the beans for a pen and took the game to America.

Bingo certainly became a success across the USA, like Las Vegas, where bingo was incorporated within the casinos. E.S Lowe even built a casino hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, the Tallyho Inn.

As well as Lowe giving so much to the world of gambling, Lowe even made his peace with God. As Bingomania was hitting 1930s USA, a Catholic priest from Pennsylvania contacted Lowe asking for their religion to use Bingo to raise money for their needs. It is estimated in 1934, 10,000 games of bingo a week were being played in halls and rooms hosted by churches and non-profit making organisations to raise funds, which was allowed by the States in the USA that had banned gambling, as it was for non-profit.

Lowe was certainly an opportunist and a visionary in the world of gaming, as he met, unknown to this day, a Canadian couple on a yacht who were playing a dice game called The Yacht Game, he bought the rights from the couple, developed the game and marketed it under the name Yahtzee. Lowe sold his company, E.S. Lowe Co. for $26 Million to Milton Bradley in 1973. Lowe passed away 13 years later in 1986, a wealthy and insightful man, knowing he had given the world Yahtzee and Bingo.

How Bingo has adapted with each century, it is no mystery that people are playing bingo online today.  Bingo has a rich history, making an impact on the culture of that era. Furthermore, it is a fun, low risk and easy game to play. But I do ask myself one question, if Lowe had not misheard the word Beano that day in Georgia in 1929, we would have been playing beano in the halls or online, or would Lowe have moved onto something else…Who knows?

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Read 1386 times Last modified on Thursday, 23 April 2020 11:31
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Chris Baxter

Chris Baxter

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