History of Bingo, Five Centuries in the Making

There’s something about the fabulous game of Bingo that has continuously enthralled one generation after another. Today, you’ll learn the complete history of the game, from it’s earliest known beginnings throughout Europe, to the live and online bingo games we play today.

Bingo’s Humble Beginnings in Europe

History of Bingo in EuropeNo one knows for sure where the rich history of bingo actually began. What we do know is that a game of this nature, known as “Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia”, was being played throughout Italy in the 1530’s. This game made its way to France during the 1700’s, where playing cards, number callers and tokens (to cover the cards) were added to the rules.

Then in 1778, France introduced “Le Lotto”, which later evolved into the 90-Ball games of live and online bingo still played throughout Europe today. Le Lotto was the first such game to use a 9×3 (27 square) grid, with 90 possible numbers appearing in the squares.

There are also references to German school teachers using bingo-like games as early as the 1800’s to educate students in the ways of spelling, mathematics and even biology.

Bingo Comes to North America

The earliest known bingo games to be played in North America were then known as “Beano”. The name was derived from the dried beans participants were given to cover the numbers on their playing cards.

The first reference to such games dates back to 1929, when a toy manufacturer from New York, Edwin Lowe, was traveling the southern regions of the United States in search of inspiration for his flagging business.

Lowe came across a game of Beano at a traveling carnival that was taking place in a small town just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He heard sounds of raucous merriment coming from within one of the tents. He went inside to investigate and found a throng of thoroughly entertained people seated within, all playing a game with dried beans and 5×5 cards cut out from cardboard.

Lowe's BingoEdwin immediately headed back to New York, where he began working on a way to market this intriguing Beano game to the public. Using a rubber number stamper, he made up a number of cards and invited some of his closest friends to come over and test it out.

According to popular theory, one of those friends was so excited by a win that they accidentally shouted the word “Bingo!” instead of “Beano”. Thus Edwin named his new game Lowe’s Bingo, and sales were off the charts almost immediately after it hit the market.

Bingo for Charity

Just months after Lowe’s Bingo hit store shelves, he was approached by a priest from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania named Father Hagus.

In dire need of funds for his church, Father Hagus had decided to host bingo games in his parish. He’d purchased enough of them that all members of the church could play, and in no time, he’d raised enough money to build a new parish.

News spread quickly, and churches all over the country began using Lowe’s Bingo to raise money. In fact, to this day, bingo is still the number one means of raising charitable funds in North America.

But I digress. The reason Father Hagus went to Mr. Lowe directly was because he discovered a design flaw in the game. Each box he’d purchased came with the same set of bingo cards, thus multiple players were winning each game. That led Edwin to seek out the help of a mathematician.

Going Crazy for Bingo

Carl Leffler of Columbia University was commissioned by Mr. Lowe to devise 6,000 randomly numbered bingo cards. This would make it easier to market the game to the masses, and for churches to conduct the games among large groups of people.

Of course, Leffler didn’t have access to a computer back then. Instead, he had to devise 6,000 different cards using his mental skills alone. While there’s no hard evidence to back it up, it’s been stated throughout the years that the mathematician actually went insane by the time he completed the task.

Note that, while Leffler only had to devise 6,000 different combinations, there are actually 552,446,474,061,128,648,601,600,000 (about 552 septillion) ways to draw up a 5×5, 75-Ball bingo card.

Modern Days of Online Bingo

The very first online gambling sites popped up in the mid 1990’s, but they didn’t offer casino games like slots machines, or poker games like Texas Hold’em. The very first variety were online bingo and sports betting sites. This is likely due to the minimal graphic animation required to run them (and still attract players) in those days.

VistaGaming launched the first online bingo site in 1996, and the industry has seen exponential growth ever since. Fans of bingo can now play free games with friends via social networks like Facebook, or play real money bingo on their desktop and mobile devices at hundreds of interactive gaming websites.

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