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How bingo became a nationwide favourite in the United Kingdom

Bingo was one of the most popular pastimes in the United Kingdom for well over 40 years. In 1963 – just 3 years after bingo was legalised as a gambling activity – there were 14 million registered players in the country.

Instead of providing a platform for continued popularity, the ensuing years saw bingo’s pull dramatically drop. In 2014 there were just 400 bingo halls in the UK, almost half of the number in 2004.

The smoking ban, rising taxes and shifting demographics were blamed for falling playing numbers, but there was nothing wrong with bingo. It was just in need of a facelift, something it has received in the past 10 years.

Recent figures show that, although playing numbers are still some way off their 1963 high, they are steadily rising. With 4 million people regularly playing a game that was thought to be ‘dying’, how did bingo rise to prominence again and become a nationwide favourite?

Adapting to Demographics

Bingo was a game in need of a facelift, in the 1960s it was new and exciting, but at the turn of the Millennium it was boring and outdated. Why? Well, the United Kingdom was a completely different place in 1960 when it was legalised.

The average Brit had never left the country on holiday, instead preferring to head to one of the country’s many coastal resorts. Blackpool, Scarborough and Skegness were the Benidorm, Mallorca and Canary Islands of their day.

Bingo halls were part of the draw and hundreds of holidaymakers piled into tourist oriented halls throughout the summer months. Unfortunately for these towns and cities, the rise in cheap flights abroad steadily saw their visitor numbers fall, and one by one the coastal bingo halls shut their doors.

Bingo halls relocated inland, forming a vital part of local communities, but a mixture of inaction, changing attitudes and government legislation saw them suffer the same fate as their coastal counterparts.

Suddenly, bingo was no longer glamorous and exciting, instead it was a tired format reliant on ageing demographic. That was until the internet gambling revolution of the mid-2000s.

Online casinos and sports betting companies were the first to take advantage of the internet and forge a niche. Bingo soon followed and found a new, younger and perhaps even more affluent demographic to appeal to.

Since 2008 bingo participation numbers have gradually been on the rise, with double digit growth forecast for the coming years. But how did the simple move to the internet breathe new life into an ailing format?

Bingo’s Facelift

As mentioned earlier, bingo was a game heavily reliant on an older demographic, one that had fallen in love with it during the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s. Part of the move to the internet included a PR revamp, seeing bingo completely reinvent itself.

Instead of targeting older customers, bingo began to target a much younger demographic, mainly of women aged 25-40. Bingo achieved this PR rebrand through a number of ways.

TV Adverts: Celebrity endorsements from public figures such as Mel B became the norm as internet bingo began its commercial onslaught on TV advert breaks. Bingo was all of a sudden back in the spotlight, and to punters it appeared cool and exciting.

Internet Adverts: Targeting a younger demographic that spends most of their time online was a smart move for bingo, but an even smarter move was targeting them through the internet. Social media sites became awash with adverts for online bingo, well before many people had an understanding of how companies like Facebook and Twitter used advertising.

Bingo Affiliates: Part of the internet advertising campaign was the rise in bingo affiliates or ‘partnerships’. Online bingo sites soon began partnering up with bingo review sites like Bingoport, to allow players to compare online bingo games and promotions available.

The new online bingo companies had affiliates to review their site or their newest games, and encourage readers to try them out for themselves. It was a thoroughly modern solution to the modern problems that had originally killed of traditional bingo.

Bingo’s Brave Leap

If you thought that the move from bingo halls to online sites and mobile apps was a big leap for bingo to make, you will be shocked at the other form of the game boosting its rising popularity.

Light hearted comedy and bingo calling have forever gone hand in hand, with callers being heralded for comedic lines such as, “8 and 8, two fat ladies…” So it was no surprise in the 1990s when bingo was reclaimed by another part of the comedy community.

(Drag bingo might seem like a big leap for the format, but it is still based on the traditional draws of bingo, comedy callers and a sense of community.)

In Seattle Judy Werle – the director of the Chicken Support Brigade – teamed bingo together with drag queens as a way of raising money to support members of the LGBT+ community who were affected by AIDS.

The ‘two fat ladies’ jokey bingo call soon took on a new, edgier take. Throughout the 1990s and the 2000s drag bingo grew in popularity, spreading throughout the United States and into Europe and Australasia.

Ru Paul’s reality TV show Drag Race helped to thrust drag queens into the public eye, thus massively increasing the popularity of drag bingo. Weekly drag bingo events are no a regular fixture in almost every major city around the world (and some rubbish cities too!)

Bingo halls who had been in desperate need of a saviour found one in the shape of glamorous, sequin clad drag queens. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven, but inexplicably it worked.

Summary

Despite having higher participation levels than most sports in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s, bingo soon fell from grace. Its problem was a failure to adapt and change to shifting public trends and interests.

That failure to move with the times was almost terminal for bingo, until the internet pioneers remarketed it. At time of writing bingo is still nowhere near its previous highs, but it is doing everything right to draw in the next generation of players.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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