Who ever thought bingo had a history?

And That’s How Bingo Became the Game

It’s hard to imagine a household staple game like ‘bingo’ having a history. From playing bingo in our elementary school classrooms, to attending a session or two with our grandparents, to eventually seeking out bingo centres and games ourselves. Bingo has been a constant pillar in everyday life. We even have a catchy song about a farmer’s dog. Needless to say, whether you’re thinking about the game, the song, or even the exclamation, ‘bingo’ has an origin.

Today we will discuss where exactly it came from.

For our charitable gaming centres, bingo has been key to garnering interest from the community, which has led to being able to give support and resources to local charities across Ontario.

It may be hard to imagine, but the game itself originates from Italy. As per the Strong National Museum of Play, in Merilyn Simond’s book, The New Games Treasury, the game was traced back to 1530 Italy, and was known as Lo Giuoco del Lotto de Italia. A game of chance, referred to as a ‘lotto’. With this distinction, the ‘lotto’ boards used were rectangular with nine squares across and three squares down (a total of 27 squares per board). Eventually, ‘lotto’ spread through Europe, with stylized versions marketed and sold as educational games.

Fast-forward to 1929 in the United States, traveling salesman Edwin Lowe from New York, passed a carnival in Georgia. A booth where a crowd of players each had a card and some beans struck Lowe’s interest. He learned that this version of the ‘lotto’ was called ‘Beano’. He also learned that the game derived from Europe. Excited with this knowledge and the concept of the lotto, he brought this back to New York and began playing with variations of his own.

It was through this play and discovery that it is said that a patron accidentally called out “bingo” instead of “beano”, and the name stuck.

The excitement from players gave Lowe the confidence to search out and hire a retired mathematician who then devised more than 6,000 numeric combinations for the ‘bingo boards’. Eventually, bingo grew widely popular and churches and fraternal organizations would purchase sets to use as a means to fundraise.

By the end of the 1930s, bingo had become so popular that there were several home versions of the game, and companies began producing their own bingo sets. Here we are in 2023, where bingo has grown to the point where it is estimated that over 1.6 billion people play each year.

Can we just take a moment to reflect on this impact on charitable gaming centres? Not only did this game of literal beans bring people together for a little fun, but the amount of fundraising that has been attained throughout the decades has had a profound impact on local charities and non-profits.

So the next time you stamp a number on your bingo card, know that you are part of a global community. And the next time you visit a charitable gaming centre, know that your presence has a bigger impact.

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