Bingo’s history: calling numbers for centuries

Who doesn’t know bingo? A classic game for every age, but especially popular amongst the elderly. The game that everyone dreads at Christmas until you don’t win the popular conserves of your neighbour Elaine.  But how did we get here? Is bingo a new game, or its roots are carved in the stone? Let’s go back to 493 years ago and discover the origin of this fun and easy game from the Italian courts to the digital era of online bingo. 

The Lotto and the European popularity 

Bingo has a rich history dating back to the 16th century when it originated in Italy under the name Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia, evolving from the Italian lottery. At the time the game had a simple format, with players selecting one number and waiting it to be called by a caller to win. The game gained popularity and made its way to France, where it became known as Le Lotto. This version of bingo became particularly popular amongst the French aristocracy. 

The French Lotto was more complex than its Italian version. The French were playing with a card similar to the one used by the 90-ball British bingo. The card consisted of numbers placed in vertical and horizontal rows. By the 18th century, Bingo had crossed the English Channel and spread throughout the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.

In the 1800s in the UK, the game was a popular social entertainment, people were playing it with friends while eating and having a drink. Soon people started hosting large bingo games in ballrooms and hotels. These events attracted a large number of people trying to win cash, luxury holidays or expensive objects.

Germany and the educational Bingo

The social nature of bingo wasn’t its only benefit, the Germans started to realise that the game could be a great educational tool for making learning more interesting. In the 1800 German educators were using Le Lotto to help children improve their numbers, spelling and logic skills. They invented several child-friendly versions of the game such as Animal Lotto, Spelling Lotto and Historical Lotto. In this case, the bingo cards were filled with math equations, illustrations of animals and words. The teacher became the caller and extracted the numbers or the words. The winning children needed to spell out the words and solve the equations to collect their prize. 

From Beano to Bingo

Arrived in the US in the 1920s, thanks to Hugh J. Ward who brought the game to carnivals and fairs across Pittsburgh. The American players started to call the game Beano because of the beans used to mark off the numbers called. Out of enthusiasm for the win, players would yell “Beano!” whenever they would complete the pattern of numbers. 

In English slang, the term ‘Bingo’ was a cry used by customs officers upon a successful search. When he first met the game in Atlanta, Georgia, the New York toy entrepreneur Edwin S. Lowe misheard the name Beano as Bingo. The name stuck, and in 1929, he patented the first bingo card design, solidifying the game’s identity. It’s also thanks to Lowe that the game arrives in New York, entering the city gambling scene. 

The 1960s marked a significant turning point for bingo in the UK with the enactment of the Betting and Gaming Act, which legalised the offering of large cash prizes. This ushered in a new era for bingo games, which were now hosted in dance halls and cinemas, attracting a substantial number of participants. The accessibility of large cash rewards contributed to the widespread appeal of bingo as a social and recreational activity during this period.

The digital era

Nowadays bingo is one of the many games that can be played from the comfort of your home. This doesn’t only include traditional bingo, but many other versions of the game such as bingo slots, poker bingo or Bingo blast. Online bingo offers themed versions of the game with options inspired by popular TV programs such as Coronation Street and The Chase. Even though the first online bingo website Bingo Zone, started in 1996, it was around 2005 that the game spread on the internet, with many bingo sites available. When online gaming boomed thanks to smartphones players around the world could access their favourite game from anywhere they wanted. 


Bingo has a rich and interesting history. Such a simple game was able to conquer the hearts of many and spread out fast around the world to become one of the most played games online and offline. 


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