How an Italian Lottery Turned into a Popular British Pastime


London – Bingo’s roots can be traced back to a game originating in 16th century Italy called Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia (literally translated to “The Clearance of The Lot of Italy”). Throughout the years, and going through various iterations, it arrived in France in the 18th century, Germany in the 19th and North American in the 20th. From there it finally reached the UK to welcoming crowds in the 1960s. Yet, it wasn’t until media mogul Robert Maxwell introduced it in his Daily Mirror newspaper in 1981 with a cash prize that it caught the English imagination.

In London today, bingo is so popular that it’s played in pubs and bingo halls alike. The classic version of the game comprised a playing card divided in to three horizontal and nine vertical rows, with each horizontal row randomly containing five numbers and four blank squares, while each vertical row contained numbers from 1-10 up to 90. Wooden chips numbered from 1 to 90 were drawn by the caller from a cloth bag and players would cover the number if it appeared on their card. The game was won when a player covered a horizontal row.

The game was brought to the United States by a travelling carnival pitchman who introduced to it in Germany and called it Beano. It was then discovered by toy sales man, Ed Lowe, who after hearing someone utter “BINGO” during a game, changed its name to what it is known today. In his version, players could win by filling horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of numbers. When it arrived in the UK it was welcomed due to its ease of play, but most importantly its social aspect.

Writer Jennifer Lamont Leo attributes bingo’s popularity to its social aspect and versatility. Easily played with friends or strangers at home or in a bar, bingo can also be adapted to various themes and played at any function. Nonetheless, with bars and pubs being popular for social gatherings in the UK for hundreds of years, the introduction of bingo added a new social dimension, which explains its vast popularity. Many bingo halls have even emulated the “pub feel” to make their customers feel more at home.

Nowadays you’d be forgiven for thinking that bingo is a game solely played by geriatrics. However, all throughout the UK, bingo’s popularity has again grown by leaps and bounds, and despite a short dip in 2014, it is now on the rise with young crowds of varying demographics. The BBC reports that bingo in London has taken on many forms, one being Rebel Bingo where the atmosphere is like the ambiance of a nightclub with loud music and fervent crowds.

Bingo has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Italy, with many different versions now available at your fingertips. The most famous version is 90-ball bingo and this iteration is the most commonly played. This version is currently played by over 3 million people in bingo halls and pubs across the UK, with 90-ball bingo’s popularity skyrocketing in recent years. The game is so popular that it has been adapted for online mobile gaming. Foxy Bingo’s 90-ball bingo how to play guide shows how the traditional game has been converted to a digital platform that can be played at the players convenience. While the digital experience can’t replicate the atmosphere of a bingo hall, it does show how far reaching the game has become.

Being a social game, bingo brings people together. We mentioned in a previous post on L’Italo Euroepo that in a big city like London  it’s easy to feel lonely and increasingly difficult to connect with other people. This is where bingo can fill the void and with new and hip variations you’re bound to find a place to meet new people.