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Articles » A Brief History of Bingo

From Italy...

The roots of Bingo as we know it began as Italy's national lottery (Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia) when the country was unified in 1530. The Italians have played and enjoyed bingo for nearly 500 years. In recent years, the annual turnover has exceeded US$75 million.

In the earliest versions of bingo, the cards were divided into three rows and nine columns each row having four blank squares and five containing a number. Numbers between 1 and 10 were placed in the first column, numbers between 11 and 20 in the second and so on. Each player had a single card, and the caller would pull a number carved into a wooden block from a fabric bag and call it out. The players with the called out number on their card would cover it and the first to cover an entire row was the winner.

Through Europe...

During the 1800s variations on the game sprang up, particularly in Germany where educational versions such as Spelling Lotto, Historical Lotto and Animal Lotto appeared.

To America...

In the USA in 1928, the entrepreneur Edwin Lowe discovered a version of Lotto being played at a travelling carnival and noticed its intense popularity. The game caller told him that he had discovered the game in Germany, adapted it slightly, and called it Beano.

Lowe returned home and tested the game on his friends using some dried beans, cardboard and a rubber stamp to number the cards. It went down a storm and Lowe realized he had a winner on his hands. During one of these games, it is said that one of Lowe's friends was so excited to win that she called out Bingo instead of Beano.

Lowe launched the game commercially as Old Bingo and it was an immediate success. However his failure to patent the name meant that the name Bingo is now generic and may be used by anyone.

A problem with Lowe's commercial product was discovered by a priest who was using the game in church fundraising activities. He found that when using multiple sets together, each game produced many winners, because the cards weren't sufficiently unique. So Lowe employed Carl Leffler, a Columbia University mathematics professor, to devise a way to generate 6000 cards that were all different. This task proved much harder than anticipated and seriously affected the mathematician's mental health. Now, of course, bingo cards are generated by computers, which can create millions of unique combinations in a short time.