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History of Bingo

Gambling Games at Golden Casino
"Beano" was an early name for Bingo. It was named this because little red dried beans were used instead of tokens. These were used to cover the numbers on what we would recognize today as Bingo tickets. Native Americans devised the term in the 1920's or 1930's.

Name Changes

Oddly, the original name for Bingo was Keno. This name was popular in the late 19th century. The two names were conflated by illegal "keno" lottery operators, who used the confusion to fool government authorities into thinking that Keno was actually a non-lottery. This is because playing Bingo was legal but playing the lottery was not.

Bingo HistoryThe end result was that the game played with live number callers, playing cards and tokens ended up being called Bingo, while the game where fictionalized horses were represented by numbers or spots on a card that were marked off and then checked for results was called Keno. However, the game was old a long time before "Beano" was a popular game in the American Midwest.

Bingo's Origins in Italy

Most gambling historians agree that Bingo began as an Italian game. It appears in the record in the late Renaissance Italy, sometime around 1530. Ironically enough, it evolved from a game called Lotto.

The word Lotto means “fate or destiny” in Italian. The first lotto was used during a time when a corrupt and botched election in a particular Italian city-state necessitated a new way to choose leaders. Numbers would be chosen at random, and whoever held that number would become the new leader, so that the outcome was truly left to fate.

The Game Spreads Across Europe

From Italy, the game would cross the Alps into France, where it came to be known as Le Lotto. It is still played every Saturday in France in a form that is very similar to the Bingo that we know today. It is a game played with tokens, a playing card and live called numbers.

The original Italian game was very popular in the 1800s in Europe. The most beloved form of Bingo involved dividing the card into 100 squares with nine vertical rows and three horizontal rows on each card. The three horizontal rows each contained five squares with numbers in them and four blank ones.

The numbers to be called were printed on wooden chips and tossed into a bag. The object of the game was to be the first to completely cover one of the three horizontal rows with the wooden chips. There were also blank squares on these cards were considered free squares much like the free square in the Bingo cards of today.

Bingo Immigrates to America

By 1929, Beano was popular in American carnivals. It was played with dried beans, a rubber number stamp and cardboard. Instead of “Bingo!” winning players shouted “Beano”. The game seems to have first appeared in Georgia, but was soon popular throughout the American Midwest.

However, the now-popular cry of “bingo” was first introduced by a New York man, Edward Lowe. Mr. Lowe began licensing bingo cards in the 1930's, making it easy for operators to run games. The license to his trademark "bingo" game was one dollar a year, which proved a clever marketing ploy to introduce Lowe's name into the marketplace.

By the 1940's bingo games had sprung up all over the United States and Canada. Thousands of games were being played every week, mostly in church and civic gathering places.

Modern Bingo

Today bingo games in many different formats and variations, including online versions. Besides traditional versions of the game, Bingo is also the basis for online games sold through licensed lotteries. Tickets are sold like for Lotto and the player get a receipt with his/her numbers, like a bingo card. The daily or weekly draw is normally broadcasted on TV. These games offer higher prizes and it is typically more difficult to win.

Another form of bingo is also frequently sold as scratch and wins type card games. These are especially popular in Canada and the United Kingdom. The numbers are pre-drawn for each card and hidden until the card is scratched. In lotteries with online networks, the price is electronically confirmed to avoid fraud.

Bingo Demographics

The Bingo Bugle, a newsletter for Bingo enthusiasts, once reported that for every one person that goes to a casino, ten go to a bingo hall. Business is even bigger online possibly because it is an easy game to play (even if you are disabled) and also because the progressive jackpots in an online game of bingo are much larger than in a bingo hall.

In both the United Kingdom and the U.S., bingo is primarily played in churches or charity organizations. However, church run games are usually played for modest stakes and attract a much different crowd than other venues.

Commercial bingo games in the US are primarily offered by casinos. These operations began only in the state of Nevada, but eventually spread to Native American bingo halls.

Housie: A Bingo Variation

In New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, a bingo-like game named housie is played. In the United Kingdom, housie is simply called bingo. This game differs only in the way the bingo card is designed.

You can also find a great article about bingo history at About.com. Check it out.

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