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The Interesting History of Bingo

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Bingo is a widely-popular game in the United States and much of Europe, but what are the game’s origins? Where did Bingo as we know it begin today, and how did it evolve over time? Bingo has always been played around the world in some form since it first appeared in 1530s Italy during the unification period of the country. Originally, Bingo as we know it today was called the “Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia” (“The Clearance of the Lot of Italy”) in its home country. The game was popular with the well-to-do and the poor alike.

So how did Bingo become so famous outside of its native country? The game passed to the rest of Europe by way of France. In 1778, it began to appear in venues all across France. For the next thirty or so years, the game remained in France and Italy and enjoyed widespread popularity in both of the countries.

Bingo reached America when a German carnival pitchman brought the game over as “Beano”, which was a variant of the original Italian Lotto meant to help children in learning math, spelling, and history. The pitchman decided that the game had some serious potential, so he added in his own rules and allowed players to win with diagonal and horizontal patterns. The carnival pitchman used beans to make the spaces that had already been called, and thus the game became known as “Beano”.

A toy salesman and entrepreneur by the name of Edwin S. Lowe visited the carnival and noticed how popular “Beano” had become. Lines formed for nearly a mile, and Lowe noticed the addition of the yelled “Beano!” during a win would excite the players. Seeing the marketing potential early on, Lowe devised his own version of the game and renamed it “Bingo” after a mispronunciation from a stammering player.

While early versions of the game are largely similar to the modern Bingo played in the United States today, there remain some major differences between the Italian Lotto and Bingo. The original Italian lottery game featured cards divided into three separate rows and nine columns, with every card consisting of a random arrangement of five numbers and four empty spaces.

Bingo grew in popularity in the decades following. In 1934, over 10,000 Bingo games were being played per week in the United States alone. It remained one of the most popular gambling venues for its easy to understand rules and exciting atmosphere.
Different versions of Bingo have been branded by game companies like Hasbro, all with their own unique twists and rulesets. Curiously enough, the original ruleset for Bingo is still the most popular, and the game has changed very little from its original incarnation in the United States.

As the game’s popularity increased in the US, Bingo spread quickly across the Atlantic and back into the United Kingdom and much of Europe that had not yet been exposed to the Italian version. The game took off, and Bingo halls opened their doors everywhere from Britain to Belgium.

Each year in the United States, over $90 million is spent on Bingo cards and supplies alone. According to world statistics, it is tied with Blackjack as one of the most recognized and popular games worldwide.

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