The evolution of: bingo

An army of ladies descending on big halls is the first thing that jumps to mind when you mention bingo, but the origins of the game couldn't be more different. Here's the story of how this simple game started.

A simple game of beano…

Image via Amazing Pics

Did you know that the game we all know and love was originally named ‘beano’?

The game of beano dates all the way back to the mid-1500s in Italy, evolving out of the then incredibly popular Italian lottery. Played by mostly men, the game featured cards with numbered squares on them being drawn out of a sack. As the numbers were picked out, the player ticked them off if he had them.

When the game moved to France it was adapted to feature a grid. Now, numbers 1–90 were randomly printed on cards in three horizontal and nine vertical rows. The first person to cover a horizontal row was the winner, but sadly it’s unlikely they shouted "beano" when they won.

Beano then moved into Germany where it was not only played as a game, but also used as an educational tool. German children in the 19th century were taught their times tables, animal names, spelling and history all using beano.


When did ‘beano’ become ‘bingo’?

Image via Wiki

The origins of the name ‘bingo’ are shrouded in mystery. The story goes that the name was coined by American toy salesman Edwin S Lowe, who observed a game being played in New York and stole the idea for himself.

It’s said that he was watching a particularly rowdy game in Georgia in 1929 where a winning player cried out ‘bingo!’ instead of ‘beano’. Lowe liked it so much that it stuck.

On the night Edwin Lowe first discovered beano, he was unable to get a ticket for the game. He recalls, "I couldn't get a seat. But while I was waiting around, I noticed that the players were practically addicted to the game. The pitchman wanted to close up, but every time he said, ‘this is the last game', nobody moved. When he finally closed at 3:00 a.m. he had to chase them out."

Lowe used a rubber numbering stamp, a cardboard and dried beans in his version of the game and set about playing it with many of his friends. The game spread well beyond Lowe and his friendship group and several years later, it was a national hit. By the 1940s, people were playing bingo all across America.


The year the British banned bingo

british bingo
The Card Players (1508-1510) by Lucas van Leyden via Wiki

The earliest British bingo game took place during the reign of Elizabeth I and was exclusively aimed at the upper classes, despite gambling being popular with all levels of society.

The game fell out of popularity with the rise of Puritanism, which viewed all gambling as deeply sinful. After Charles II came to the throne however, bingo returned to popularity and became big business.

Gambling fell in and out of fashion in Britain and during the 18th century it was for a time illegal for women to gamble using dice. They quickly got around this issue by using wheels marked with numbers, much like the spinning wheel popularised in modern game shows.  


Nights in the navy

army bingo
Image via Bingo Calls

The British navy began to play bingo in their downtime during in the 1800s. A large garrison was stationed in Malta in 1814, and it’s very likely that they learned the game from the Maltese.

By the end of the 1800s the game was being played across the armed forces. The army referred to it as ‘housey housey’, while the navy stuck with the simpler ‘tombola’. The game continued in popularity with the armed forces through the Second World War and was popular among all ranks.

Many of the bingo calls we are familiar with today originated in bingo’s time with the army.


The world’s bingo hall


Today, bingo has evolved to become one of the most popular games in the world. Bingo halls up and down the country give all players exciting entertainment and the chance to win huge jackpots. In fact, over 3 million people are now signed up as bingo hall members.

The game’s popularity has rocketed even further with the dawn of the internet, with the first online bingo site springing up in 1996, and has become a global phenomenon online, with thousands of games and sites available at the click of a button.

Bingo lovers are now able to play on their favourite games, day or night, from as little as a few pennies. This evolution means that the classic game of bingo is being brought to a new generation of players who can enjoy a quick game whenever it conveniences them.

The online bingo community is also thriving with the help of chat rooms. These forums provide a sociable platform that allows players to have a natter with their friends whilst they play, plus gives them the chance to make new ones.

This friendly feature gives players the buzzing atmosphere that they would usually find in a bingo hall, without leaving their sofa. The growth of the online bingo community shows no signs of slowing down as more and more players clickety click their way to big wins.


Reader’s Digest bingo

RD bingo

Check out the Reader’s Digest bingo games lobby to discover an incredible variety of popular bingo classics, as well as exclusive modern games. We’ve got everything from bingo 90 and 70, to the cheeky Take Me Out and brilliant Bingo Royale games.

Huge jackpots are always up for grabs and members can enjoy playing from as little as 1p. We currently have an amazing 11 jackpots up for grabs! Every bingo room is packed with personality and a buzzing chat society, as well as built-in slot mini-games that can be enjoyed without leaving the current bingo game.

You’ll also find friendly chat hosts in every virtual room, who keep the conversation fun and exciting whatever the time, day or night. Everyone is sure to make friends.

As if that wasn’t enough, you can also take advantage of our fantastic 250% welcome bonus. Deposit just £10 and get £35 to play with. There are also loads of daily promotions that give you the chance to win everything from exotic holidays to huge cash prizes, simply by playing your favourite games.

Join the fun today! 

*New customers only. Registration required. Minimum £10 deposit. 18+ UK only. Valid until 30 April 2016. You must click the Join Now button above to register and accept the welcome bonus when you deposit £10 to receive £25 bonus to play. 250% welcome bonus – max £100. Bonus must be wagered four times before withdrawals. Wager and cash-out requirements apply. See full T&Cs at  For 24-hour support, freephone 0800 458 0770. Play responsibly, visit