Bingo History - The Origins Of Bingo Games
by Mark Falco
The origins of bingo, as with most games, is shrouded in the mists of history. However, we can trace the idea back to the 1500's where the Italians invented a lottery game to be played 'en masse' rather like Bingo is today. "Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia" was the very first state run lottery which proved to be so popular it is still played today.
Perhaps closer to the game we know today however is the French game of "Le Lotto" which was derived from the Italian counterpart. This game was very popular with French noblemen during the 18th century. This game involved a caller drawing out wooden discs numbers from one to ninety from a bag and calling them out to the players. Each player had a game board divided into nine rows and three columns of numbers and the winner would be the person to mark off all the numbers in one row.
Later versions of the Le Lotto appeared in Germany but this time, it was used not for gambling purposes but rather to teach children their times tables. Today, more of the same can be found on the children's games market including such things as spelling bingo with, of course, all of the gambling elements removed.
However, the first example of bingo in its modern form appeared during the late 1920's when a New York toy salesman stumbled upon an addictive fairground game and had a brainwave. Edwin S. Lowe came across the game of "Beano" at a carnival in Georgia. The players at this game had wooden cards full of numbers and a set of dried beans. Every time the caller drew out a number they would cover it up with a bean, the winner being the one to mark off all the numbers in a straight line either diagonally, horizontally or vertically. So popular was this game that Lowe never actually got a chance to play but the idea of marketing this to the mass market was formed right there and then.
Hurrying back to New York he quickly made his own replica of the carnival game and invited friends over to play at a specially organized party. It was just as popular there in his apartment to the point where one member got so excited that she stumbled over the call of "Beano!" To signify she had won and shouted out "BINGO!" instead. The name stuck and when Lowe produced the first commercial version of the game retailing for just $1 that's the name it was marketed with.
Bingo of course never stayed as a parlour game but soon made it's way into being a large multi-player social gambling event we see today. How it got that way is, unlikely as it sounds, due in large part to the efforts of a Pensylvanian priest! The priest needed to find a fundraising event for his church and saw the game of bingo as being the ideal way to do it. He set up large-scale bingo game events with hundreds of players instead of the handful the original game had been designed for and the idea really took off.
Unfortunately, each game now had tens of winners instead of a few so he commissioned a mathematician to create cards with 6000 unique number combinations, a task which took several months by hand as there were no computers to help back then. Once finished however the game of bingo really took off in its modern form to the point where in 1934, just a few years after bingo first hit the mass market, there was over 10,000 games being played per week across America. Now of course, bingo is a multi-million dollar industry across the world and can be played online 24 hours a day if it takes your fancy.
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