Bingo - History of the Game

From Carnival to Church and Casino

Bingo is a popular game that can be played for cash and prizes. Bingo games are won when the player matches numbers on their card with ones randomly drawn by a caller. The first person to complete a pattern yells, "Bingo." Their numbers are checked and a prize or cash awarded. The patterns can be varied throughout a gaming session, which keeps players interested and engaged.

Bingo's Ancestors

The game's history can be traced back to 1530, to an Italian lottery called "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia," which is still played every Saturday in Italy.

From Italy the game was introduced to France in the late 1770s, where it was called "Le Lotto", a game played among wealthy Frenchmen. The Germans also played a version of the game in the 1800s, but they used it as a child's game to help students learn math, spelling and history.

In the U.S., bingo was originally called "beano". It was a country fair game where a dealer would select numbered discs from a cigar box and players would mark their cards with beans. They yelled "beano" if they won.

Edwin S. Lowe and the Bingo Card

When the game reached North America in 1929, it became known as "beano". It was first played at a carnival near Atlanta, Georgia. New York toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe renamed it "bingo" after he overheard someone accidentally yell "bingo" instead of "beano."

He hired a Columbia University math professor, Carl Leffler, to help him increase the number of combinations in bingo cards.

By 1930, Leffler had invented 6,000 different bingo cards. They were developed so there would be fewer non-repeating number groups and conflicts when more than one person got Bingo at the same time.

Lowe was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. Not only did his E.S. Lowe company produce bingo cards, he also developed and marketed the game Yahtzee, for which he bought the rights from a couple who played it on their yacht.

His company was sold to Milton Bradley in 1973 for $26 million. Lowe died in 1986.

Church Bingo

A Catholic priest from Pennsylvania approached Lowe about using bingo as a means of raising church funds. When bingo started being played in churches it became increasingly popular. By 1934, an estimated 10,000 bingo games were played weekly. While gambling is banned in many states, they may allow bingo games to be hosted by churches and non-profit groups to raise funds.

Casino Bingo

Bingo has been one of the games offered at many casinos, both in Nevada and those operated by Native American tribes. E.S. Lowe built a casino hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, the Tallyho Inn. Today, more than $90 million dollars are spent on bingo each week in North America alone.

Bingo in Retirement and Nursing Homes

Bingo is a popular game played for recreational therapy and socialization in skilled nursing facilities and retirement homes. It is easy to operate with just a couple of staff or volunteers, and residents can play along with their visitors. The opportunity to win a small prize is a lure. Its popularity may wane once the elderly population who enjoyed church bingo in their youth pass on to new generations raised on video games.