Bingo Games

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Bingo is a simple and fun game of chance that is enjoyed internationally by people of all ages. The game is played by distributing cards that have been pre-marked in a variety of arrangements of letters and numbers to players and then having a game host select and call out a series of tiles marked with the number/letter combinations printed on those cards. As each tile is called out, players mark them off. The goal of the game is to complete a row on a single card first among all players. When that happens, the player calls out the word “Bingo.” Their card is then checked against the tiles that have been called to verify that they have won that round. Several rounds are played, with game winners awarded prizes. 

Bingo is similar to games that were played in Italy in the 16th century and France and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It became popular in the United States in the early 1920s, when it was standardized and copyrighted by Hugh J. Ward for play at carnivals in Pennsylvania. Ward published a rule book in 1933, but the game was nationalized by a toy merchandiser named Edwin Lowe who produced standardized 12-card sets that sold for $1 and 24-card sets that sold for $2. is an unconfirmed story that the game was originally called “Beano” but that one of the early players yelled out “Bingo” instead upon winning, and the name stuck.

Bingo quickly became an international phenomenon, and numerous variations developed. Many of the variations have to do with the patterns required to win. Though traditional Bingo games award uninterrupted vertical, horizontal or diagonal lines on the board, game hosts can indicate whatever pattern they wish per round. Variations can include “cover-alls” where every spot on the card needs to be covered; cards that are marked in the form of the letter “T”, “H”, or I, etc., and even for cards on which no matches have been found.

Bingo is played on flat pieces of cardboard or pads of paper that are divided into five vertical columns of five rows, creating a total of 25 squares. The vertical rows are each marked by the letters B, I, N, G and O, and the spaces below each is marked with a number between 1 and 75, with the numbers 1-15 falling under the B, the numbers 16 through 30 falling under the I, the numbers 31 through 45 falling under the N, the numbers 46 through 60 falling under the G, and the numbers 61 through 75 falling under the letter O. The only exception is the square in the middle of the grid, which is marked with the word “FREE.”

The game host draws numbers using a variety of equipment. Some numbers are determined through electronic random number generators, while others use mechanical ball draws or a rotating cage filled with wooden tiles. No matter how the numbers are determined, as each number is called out, players check their cards to see whether they have the number that has been called, and if they do then they mark that box off with the hope that they will be the first to complete the pattern that has been identified as the winner. 

Bingo is so popular that many people play multiple cards at once, and organizations that host these games create their own rules regarding the maximum number of cards that can be played at once; to provide for second, and third place winners; and regarding when and how “Bingo” can be called. Many players use special markers called daubers to make marking a card faster, easier and more visible. 

Because Bingo is such a simple game, it is easily modified and customized. It is often one of the first games that children learn: it is used as a way to teach letters and numbers; beginning reader words; shapes; and more.  Some of the variations that have been popularized for adults include:

  • U-Pick ‘Em – Players each play three cards that collectively contain all 75 numbers. Before game play begins, they select the numbers that they hope will be called and then mark them if they are chosen.
  • Standard – Players can mark all numbers on the card that end with the second digit of the first number called. For example, if the first number called is 17, then players could consider the numbers 7, 27, 37, 47, 57 and 67 as having been called.
  • Shotgun, Quickie or Turbo – Games played between regular rounds of Bingo in an extremely fast manner.
  • Horse Racing Bingo – Played using a bingo flashboard, players are each given numbers from 1 to 15 that correspond to numbers on the board. Numbers are then drawn and marked on the flashboard, and the person whose column has all five numbers first wins. 
  • Death Bingo – This game is essentially played backwards: players who get bingo are the eliminated and the player who lasts the longest and has the most marked spots without getting bingo wins.
  • Drag Bingo – These events generally combine traditional Bingo events with a drag show and are hosted as fundraisers.

Bingo is a universally accessible and enjoyed game, but there are certain cultures and organizations that lead in its play. Churches and charities have benefited from the popularity of the game, using it as a fundraiser by scheduling games that are operated weekly, monthly or annually.  The game is played online through licensed lotteries and on Facebook, at Tribal-owned casinos, on slot machines in traditional casinos, and in Bingo parlors and halls around the world.

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