Bingo used to be the kind of thing that was played by your nan. Lovingly mocked by the likes of Peter Kay, bingo players were represented by white-haired old ladies in cardigans who were fiercely protective of their ‘dabbers’ and competed intensely for the prize of a tray of suspicious meat supplied by the local butcher.
It’s probably fair to say that that picture never really existed in the real world. While generations of proud Northern women did – and still do – display a great affection for bingo in its traditional format it was always more of a cheap, fun night out than the den of barely-repressed competitive ego that it was sometimes painted as.
Today’s bingo halls are a far cry from the dim annexes to working men’s clubs of popular imagination. The likes of Gala and Mecca have not only upscaled their premises to seat hundreds of players but have made great strides to turn bingo into something far more aspirational. TV advertising targets the young and affluent, and national link-up games see competitors playing for prizes of many, many thousands of pounds in simultaneous games.
Now, beating down a door that was pushed open by the likes of poker, bingo is moving online – where it has found a natural fit with widely available technologies.
The social scene
One of the most critical components in the enduring popularity of bingo has always been its social aspect. In tightly-knit working class communities throughout the 20th century, bingo halls often played the same role for women that working mens associations did for men. They were places to unwind from the daily stresses of life, to meet like-hearted friends and to have a cheap night out, lubricated with drink and a small dash of glamour.
While that part of society is seemingly atrophying as demographics change, people still look for social outlets – and online spaces have become key parts of the social life of both young and old. Forums and messageboards are now well-established outlets for people to exchange ideas and advice while chat software such as MSN has created entirely new idioms of communication.
Bingo, with its strong communal roots is a natural fit to sit alongside these technologies. While the game itself is ruled by the happenstance of random number generators, online bingo games sit alongside inline chat. While this might seem meaningless to the uninitiated, it actually means that the games spark with the kind of free-spirited banter than characterises the traditional offline bingo game.
The actual workings of online bingo games will be familiar to anyone who has handled a dabber. You buy cards, which consist of 3 rows of numbers – just as you would in a real game. Then, a random number generator takes the place of the bingo caller and displays “balls” every few seconds, which then are marked off your cards automatically.
At any point, there can be dozens of players in the game – and as in traditional bingo there are mini-prizes within each game, such as completing 1 or 2 rows.
Most online bingo sites have some kind of signing on bonus, meaning you can either play for free for some time, or are credited with free playing credits. Once these are used up, you basically credit your account from a card or bank account and spend the money on playing cards. The cost of these cards vary from game to game. At the lower end, you can buy cards in games for as little as 5p – but for games with big jackpots, the cost can rise upwards of Â£1.
The fast and addictive nature of the gaming experience means that you should definitely keep a close eye on what you are spending as you play.