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The Origin of Bingo Halls

October 9 Sandra Wong

The origin of bingo can be traced back to the 16th century in the United Kingdom. It is thought the game originates from the Italian lottery in 1530 and spread to France before reaching the UK. The aim of the game was to mark numbers off on a card as they were called out in an attempt to achieve a winning combination.

In terms of the modern version of bingo, it is believed to have first appeared in the 1920s at carnivals. The basic bingo card design used today, even at the best bingo sites, can be attributed to Erwin S. Lowe, who patented the design in 1942. Much of the focus today is on online bingo but there are still plenty of bingo halls in the United Kingdom and around the world being used by millions of people.

During the 1950s, the cinema and theatre were the main attractions in terms of entertainment. When the television was invented and started to become available to the public, fewer people attended the cinema and this led to the need for new leisure activities. The cinemas needed a way to adapt following the introduction of the television and some chose to become concert venues while others were transformed into dance halls.

However, plenty of cinemas decided to change into bingo halls. As bingo was growing in popularity throughout the United Kingdom, cinemas were already running the game on specific nights of the week. Some evenings would remain open for films and other evenings would see games of bingo. This was especially true in the capital city of London, where cinemas would split their time evenly between showing films and organising bingo games.

Interestingly, it quickly became apparent more people were turning up to the cinema to play bingo than watch movies. This led many venues to stop showing films and instead concentrate on the bingo and thus the bingo hall was born. Little needed to be done in order to convert a cinema into a bingo hall. In most cases, all that was required was the removal of the cinema screen as the seats were already in place for the public to play the game. Much of the seating was not perfect for bingo, as there was not a table available on which to place the card or a drink but due to the construction of the building, it was difficult to change the style of the seats. So, more often than not they remained the same as they were for the cinema.

One of the most significant changes required by cinemas to transform them into bingo halls was the lighting. Cinema lighting was often dim and the lights were always turned off during the film showing. However, when playing bingo, the lighting needed to be bright so players could see the numbers on the card and mark them off. Such was the popularity of bingo at the time, it made financial sense for many of the cinemas to adapt their lighting for bingo as it was bringing in plenty of revenue.

Another major reason why bingo halls saw a surge in popularity during this time was the Second World War. The government used bingo as a way to boost morale following the war and local councils were at the heart of bringing the game to life in towns throughout the United Kingdom.

Moving into the late 1960s and the 1968 Gaming Act was passed. This helped to further improve the offering of bingo halls and they could include additional games such as slot machines. Many of the original bingo halls were transformed into social clubs and people could meet in the clubs to have a drink, a game of bingo and enjoy playing on the slot machines. 

It was during the 1960s that bingo reached its peak of popularity and there were over 1000 bingo halls in the UK alone. As more people started playing the game, bingo became big business and in the following decades bingo companies were formed including many of the major brands still around today such as Mecca, Gala, and Coral. These companies started buying out the many bingo halls around the country to form huge bingo brands. 

Some of the old cinema buildings struggled to cope under the demand and as they began to age, they were no longer fit for purpose. This led to the development of dedicated bingo halls. Some of these were built in the centre of towns and cities whereas others were created on the outskirts of towns, where they could be built freely and without size restriction.

Many people still play the game at bingo halls but the introduction of online bingo means that are more people than ever before playing bingo at home. Bingo is a game that continues to evolve and it is exciting to see what the future holds.


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