The History of Bingo

Bingo is a game enjoyed by millions of people around the world every week. It’s easy to learn and players have plenty of time to socialize while playing.

It’s also the most prominent form of gambling that is accepted by many religions around the world. In the United States you can play bingo in many churches.

The only form of gambling that may be more readily accepted by the masses is the lottery. Perhaps not too surprisingly, bingo and the lottery have a few things in common in their history.

Bingo, Keno and the Lottery

Bingo, keno, and most forms of the lottery are the same basic game at their core. You either pick a group of numbers or a group of numbers is given to you in exchange for a small amount of cash. These numbers are from a pool of larger numbers.

Numbers are then drawn from this larger pool and if enough of your numbers match the ones drawn you win cash or a prize.

Because all three games are the same at their core the history of each is somewhat entwined with the others.

One of the first names used in the United States for bingo was Keno. Keno was popular in many gambling establishments in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many laws were introduced making the lottery illegal but leaving bingo legal. Merchants introduced the word Keno to give themselves another way to offer games of chance or gambling.

In the end the game that used a card with numbers that were marked off after being called by a live announcer and trying to form straight lines was called bingo. The game is still played almost exactly the same way today.

Keno became the word for a game that represented a fictional horse race with numbers chosen and then checked off if your “horse” came through. Today’s keno games are played in much the same way but no one attaches the game with horse racing either in their mind or on paper.

Italy – The Birthplace of Bingo

The most popular theory about the history of bingo starts in Italy. The Italians played a game called Lotto in the early 1500’s. Lotto in Italian means either fate or destiny.

Corruption was a large problem at this time in Italy so the Lotto was devised as a way to choose leaders in one of the cities. Each eligible citizen was assigned a number and a number was drawn at random to assign a new leader. The new leader was chosen by fate.

The Lotto was adapted to a game which eventually became a close resemblance to what we call bingo today.

From Italy, the game spread to France where it was called Le Lotto. The game of Le Lotto is still played on a regular basis in France today and it is very similar to bingo. Playing cards, tokens, and numbers called out live are involved in Le Lotto.

The game quickly spread throughout Europe in many different variations. Some early cards had as many as 100 different squares on them.

Instead of bingo balls like we use today, tiles or squares, often made from wood, were placed in a bag or other covered device. The person running the game or one of their representatives would draw the tiles or squares out one at a time and announce the number.


One of the earliest recorded names for a game of bingo in the United States was beano. American Indians came up with the name beano in the early 1900’s. The bingo cards, or tickets, were covered with small red dried beans when the numbers were drawn.

Hugh Ward

A man named Hugh Ward came up with a standard set of rules for bingo in the 1920’s and wrote a rule book for it in 1933.

Edward Lowe

Edward Lowe came across a game of beano in Georgia in 1929 that was based on the rules developed by Ward. Lowe took the idea back to his home state of New York and the game quickly spread in popularity.

Lowe designed bingo games in two different versions. He offered a 12 card set for $1 and a 24 card set for $2. He licensed his cards to operators who helped spread the popularity of bingo further.

Lowe hired Carl Leffler, a Columbia University math teacher to help him design his bingo cards. Some sources claim Leffler designed over 6,000 different bingo cards in his life.

There are numerous conflicting stories about Ward and Lowe and how the game went from being called beano to bingo. Some claim that Lowe had a lady yell bingo instead of beano when she won and started using the name bingo from there. Others claim Ward copyrighted the name before Lowe used it. Yet others credit the use of the name bingo to Great Britain who supposedly has been using it since the late 1700’s.

I include all of these conflicting reports here so you can make your own judgment. In the end it doesn’t matter where the name was first used, but the history is interesting.

Where to Play Bingo

Depending on where you live and how the laws regarding games of chance and gambling are written you can play bingo many places.

You can find bingo halls in some parts of the world and many casinos have places where you can play. Many of these are called bingo parlors.

You can also play in some churches and legion halls in communities around the world.

In some areas bingo gatherings have to be set up as charitable enterprises so the prizes may not be monetary. Prizes have to be donated in some areas to be considered charitable.

A popular bingo set up where I live is called basket bingo. All of the prizes are expensive baskets that are popular here instead of cash. Just about any theme can be used for a bingo event. Any item that holds enough value to the normal population can be substituted for a cash prize.

In an interesting turn of fate, bingo games are now available through many lotteries. Just like the lottery and bingo games were tied together in history, they are now tied together in some areas again.

That brings us to the newest place you can play bingo.

Online Bingo

While the most popular way to play bingo remains at the local bingo hall, church, or other gathering place, you can now play bingo online.

The nice thing about playing online is you don’t have to play for a real money entry fee. You can play bingo for free. Many free bingo web sites even award prizes.

Even though you can chat with other players using the online software platform hosting the bingo games, the social interaction isn’t the same as in person play. This is most likely the reason it’s still more popular to play bingo in person than online.

If you’re a bingo addict and can’t get to your local game for some reason you should definitely check out an online bingo hall. It’s also a great way to learn more about how to play bingo if you haven’t played before. Bingo isn’t a game like craps or Pai Gow that can be difficult to learn, but it’s always nice to have a little anonymous experience before playing with real people the first time.


Bingo is a fun game that anyone can play. It’s also a staple in many people’s social interactions on a weekly basis. Many people enjoy the socializing as much or more than the actual play.

From its origins to the standardized way bingo is played in bingo halls and online today, you can join in the fun and take a chance at winning some cash or great prizes just about any time you want.

Copyright © 2018 - All Rights Reserved. Home | Sitemap

BeGambleAware Logo18+ LogoGamCare Logo