Britain’s Long Love Affair With Bingo

The glory days of British bingo began in the 1960’s when bingo giant Mecca converted several old cinemas into massive bingo palaces capable of holding hundreds of players. At the time there were several abandoned cinemas in Great Britain because of the advent of television. Bingo had been popular since the postwar years when bingo was played in the many holiday camps located throughout the country. The roots of British bingo are found in the sale ancient Italian game that led to the development of American bingo in the late 1920’s. In 1960 Parliament passed the Gaming Act which established legal conditions that allowed bingo to flourish.

In the early days bingo was legal in licensed members only clubs. Eric Morley, who founded Mecca bingo, saw the potential of the game after visiting the United States and witnessing several bingo games. Morley saw bingo as a way to repurpose the dance halls that mecca had made famous but were losing popularity because of television. Mecca made the bingo experience more upscale than American bingo games. At the time most American bingo games were held in church parish halls and veterans organizations. Morley added a touch of glamour to the game.

Morley added even more entertainment by using the now famous glass cabinets with fans blowing numbered bingo balls which served as a random number generator of sorts. The inexpensive games made bingo a big hit with working class Britons and throughout the 60’s and 70’s the bingo industry experienced astounding growth. In the 80’s many bingo clubs seemed outdated and had to compete with discos and other forms of pop entertainment. Attendance dwindled and several bingo halls closed.

Interest in bingo began to revive in the 90’s but in 2007 a disastrous smoking ban forced dozens of bingo clubs to close. The first internet bingo sites appeared in 1996 but were slow to catch on because of limited graphic and technical capabilities. After the imposition of the smoking ban many internet bingo sites reported an 80% increase in player numbers. By 2010 internet bingo was the fastest growing sector of the online gambling industry. Internet bingo has also been beneficial for land based bingo clubs. Today most bingo players are young females between the ages of 18 and 35. Earlier in the year Rank Group announced that it will spend millions refurbish several bingo halls and casinos to appeal to a younger crowd of casual players.  Today both land based and internet bingo are firmly established as a part of British popular culture.