“Paf Live Bingo Final Cinderella” (CC BY 2.0) by Paf – Play Among Friends
It’s a cynical point but the traditional image of bingo is about as far away from the modern, tech-infused world as it’s possible to get. Smoky rooms, heavy cardigans, and groups of older folk hunched over coloured cards; it’s perhaps no surprise that the offline game, in its original guise, never caught on with the attention-deficit millennials.
The type of bingo played in dance halls and working men’s clubs has been in decline for a long time. The UK saw 200 hall closures in the nine years between 2005 and 2014 according to the Independent. The issue became so pronounced that 54 MPs lobbied for a tax break on bingo profits (the sector paid 20%, now down to 10%) earlier this decade.
Offline bingo is still in decline as of January 2017. However, the old, venerable game has pulled new life from unlikely places; namely, young people and their beloved technology.
“Samsung Galaxy Note 3” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Sergey Galyonkin
While it’d be easy to assume that online bingo is popular because it provides something radically different from the real-life game, it’s arguably the many parallels between the two options that have attracted around 3m players to internet and mobile-based portals. The UK’s online bingo industry was worth around £130m in 2015.
The major draw of the online game is, obviously, convenience – the weekly trip to the local hall loses much of its appeal in the depths of winter – and enhanced social opportunities like chat games and refer a friend schemes. There’s now no reason why transitioning to an online operator has to mean the loss of a treasured friend group.
Online bingo also offers greater flexibility with regard to things like payment methods and game types. For example, mFortune, an operator that lets people play bingo no deposit needed, has eleven different rooms themed around precious stones, with jackpots that scale up to £58,000. In an innovative twist, mFortune champions payment by phone bill, providing an alternative method to using their cards.
“Dj Shocca” (CC BY 2.0) by Carlo Alberto Della Siega
The influence of a younger audience on the classic game of bingo is perhaps nowhere more obvious than at alternative bingo nights. Describing the melding of the game with club nights and all manner of student debauchery, alternative or “rave” bingo attracts sell-out audiences in Manchester and Liverpool on a bi-weekly basis.
The prizes are awful – and deliberately so – but bingo arguably here plays second fiddle to the overall experience. It’s a wild mess of cheap drinks, risqué bingo calls, rap and dance music – and people not wearing all of their clothes. There’s little to appeal to bingo’s old guard but rave bingo is the injection of new life the offline game desperately needed.
There’s some evidence that even the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar halls are trying to lure more millennials and students through the doors. For example, one of the UK’s largest brands has revamped its bingo calls to incorporate modern references like “Little Mix” (six), “Tinder date” (eight), and “tag a mate” (48).
Finally, as the stranger niches of bingo have only recently appeared, the UK might be at the thin end of the wedge as far as the game’s potential is concerned. Anyone for bingo in virtual reality?