The Early Days of Internet Bingo

The Early Days of Internet BingoWhile doing some research for articles I came upon an article written in 1997 titled “Tele-Bingo: Cashing in on the Rising Popularity of Online Bingo.” Since the very first bingo site appeared in 1996 the article documents the very early days of internet bingo. The article starts out by saying that bingo is alive and well on the internet and says that despite the doubts of many in the gaming industry bingo is “bigger and better than ever.” In 1997 several new internet bingo sites popped up although the growth was nothing like today. George Landry, the designer and operator of Tele-Bingo , the creator an Internet bingo game called U-Pick-Em, was initially skeptical but was quickly convinced of the potential of internet bingo. Landry said “I was told how big bingo is, but I didn’t really believe them,” Landry said. “I believe now. Bingo is actually the most-played form of gaming in the world. It’s amazing.”

Because of their huge success Tele-Bingo had to upgrade their systems to deal with the heavy site traffic. Other early bingo sites such as Bingo World and Bingo Express saw player numbers explode. Remember this is when internet gambling was still legal in the United States and well before the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. (UIGEA) U-Pick-Em bingo is operated by Tele-Mark under a contract with the Sac & Fox Nation of Shawnee Oklahoma. Landry stated “We’ve been developing this game for about four years. We have actually had the game up and through testing since April. We find a few bugs and pull it down, then play some more. But we’ve had really good success.”

Today the domain of Tele-Bingo has expired and the game is no more. It is possible that the game was shut down after the passage of UIGEA. In its heyday patrons could play U-Pick-Em bingo online on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 p.m. to 10:30. Eight ‘high stakes’ are played with a payout of $200 per game and $1,600 per night.  Landry said the weekly payouts averaged about $7,000. Contrast those payouts with todays. There are actually a few bingo millionaires and many bingo sites offer networked games and progressive jackpot games and slots.

In 1997 about 8,000 players had U-Pick-Em accounts. About 20% of these members are playing on any given bingo night. Cards cost $2 and most players bought between 10 to 15 cards per game. Landry said at the time “We’re shooting for a mark of 32,000. We figure with a base of 32,000 players we could make $5 million to $6 million per year.”  For most of today’s big internet bingo operators that would be chump change! There are millions of online bingo players around the globe and today the industry generates about $2 billion annually.