In an age where people have so many entertainment activities to choose from, it is rare for something to truly stand the test of time.

However, bingo is undoubtedly the exception to the rule, with its near 500-year history giving the game a longevity that no other pastime can match.

Bingo first came to prominence on the European mainland, before establishing itself as mainstream entertainment activity in the United Kingdom and United States during the early 1900s.

Working class people in the UK couldn’t get enough of the game after the Second World War, with millions regularly buying bingo cards in land-based venues across the country.

London was amongst the cities that had a burgeoning bingo scene, but shifting consumer habits as the new millennium approached sparked a downturn in the game’s fortunes.

The arrival of the internet gave bingo a much-needed boost, allowing operators the opportunity to introduce the game to a much wider demographic.

The social element that drove the initial bingo surge was cleverly incorporated in the new wave of sites, providing people with a new way to meet in a digital environment.

The provision of chatroom facilities gave players the opportunity to interact with others while the games were in progress.

This made online bingo the ideal way for family and friends to play alongside each other, thus replicating the experience they could enjoy in a land-based venue.

Future innovations in technology are likely to expand on this and should help bingo retain its status as a popular entertainment activity.

We take a closer look at the history of bingo and assess how it has evolved to remain firmly embedded in modern culture.


The rise of bingo

Bingo has its roots in Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia, a lottery game played in Italy during the 16th century. It spread to France, before becoming a global phenomenon.

The first modern version of bingo in the UK can be traced to carnivals and fairs during the 1920s, but the game truly took off after World War II.

The introduction of the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act 1960 saw large cash prizes legalised, a move which enticed several leisure organisations to open massive bingo establishments.

Many theatres and cinemas in London were converted into bingo halls as shrewd entrepreneurs spotted the opportunity to make a profit.

A popular cinema in Wandsworth was amongst a wave of venues that were transformed in the capital, helping bingo become the number one entertainment activity there.

Holiday camps, church halls and working men’s clubs also jumped on the bandwagon as the bingo craze swept the nation.

Nealy half a million people played bingo each day at its peak in the UK, but changes in consumer behaviour during the 1990s brought a temporary halt to the gravy train.


Bingo declines as aspirations change


UK society underwent numerous changes as the new millennium approached, particularly in the way that people used their free time.

The bingo sector suffered a rapid decline as people across the country gravitated towards entertainment activities that were viewed as modern and trendy.

Working class pursuits such as bingo were suddenly viewed as a pursuit undertaken by old people in scruffy northern towns.

The industry in London was hit extremely hard, with around three-quarters of the land-based venues forced to close their doors.

High taxation and the smoking ban were cited as the primary reasons for bingo’s demise, although a failure to move with the times also contributed.

The launch of the internet ultimately handed bingo a lifeline and operators were quick to recognise the opportunities available in the online arena.

While the earliest incarnations of bingo sites were fairly basic affairs, the seeds had been sown for what followed over the past couple of decades.


Technology saves the day

Advancements in technology undoubtedly helped bingo regain its status as a popular entertainment activity by allowing operators to remodel their businesses.

Many bingo brands focused their efforts online, creating immersive sites that quickly introduced a whole new generation of players to the iconic game.

Clever advertising and marketing campaigns sparked a huge increase in the number of young females playing bingo, with many of the sites targeted specifically at their demographic.

The online bingo boom shows no signs of slowing down, with analysts forecasting that the global market will be worth around $2 billion by 2022.

Land-based bingo has also enjoyed a renaissance as operators have developed innovative crossovers with other entertainment genres that have proved to be hugely successful.

That point is perfectly highlighted around London, with dozens of bars and drag clubs hosting bingo nights on a weekly basis.

Bingo raves and special bingo cruises are other notable examples of how the game has been adapted to appeal to a new audience.


Bingo in the future

It is fair to say that the bingo sector is in rude health right now and it would be a major surprise if this did not continue for the foreseeable future.

Technology has evolved at a rapid rate in recent years and history has shown that new innovations have the power to drive change in bingo.

Virtual reality (VR) technology has been widely tipped to be the next big thing in the gambling industry and bingo could well be a major beneficiary.

The hardware that supports VR had previously failed to live up to expectations, but the latest kit unquestionably delivers the goods.

VR headsets have already been used by some bingo operators to provide players with an exciting gameplay experience and more firms may follow suit in the future.

The technology allows players to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a traditional bingo hall without actually having to be there.

As the uptake on VR increases, the supporting hardware will become more affordable thus helping the technology cross firmly into the mainstream.