The History of Bingo

Bingo can trace its roots back to 1530 when a united Italy first held its national lottery game, known as "Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia." It involved the same concept of drawing of numbers that characterizes bingo today. However, unlike bingo, the Italian State Lottery has changed very little over the years. It is still held every Saturday in Italy and contributes a hefty US$ 75 million to the government's coffers every year.

From Italy, the game caught fire in France in the 1770s, especially among wealthy Frenchmen and the so-called intelligentsia, who could not get enough of the game that they called "Le Lotto." This form of bingo already had many of the characteristics of today's bingo, particularly the way it is played in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Bingo cards already had three horizontal and nine vertical rows.

Like today's UK bingo, each horizontal row had nine spaces, five which had numbers and four which were blank. Each vertical row had designated sets of numbers: 1 to 10 in Row One, 11 to 20 in Row Two and so on. Instead of balls, dealers at that time drew numbered chips. Like today, the player who first crossed off a horizontal line won the game.

A version of the game became popular in Germany in the 1800s but mostly as an educational tool that taught children how to spell and about math and history. Starting in the 1850s, children played games such as Animal Lotto, Multiplication Lotto, Historical Lotto and Spelling Lotto. To this day, there are still many children's games that use lotto as a medium, including one popular game where Sesame Street Muppets teach children aged three to six years old how to count.

In 1929, the game was first played in North America as Beano. It was introduced in a carnival at Atlanta, Georgia and, like today, the winning player yelled "Beano!" when they won the game. It became known as Bingo thanks to Edwin S. Lowe, a New York toy salesman who helped popularize the game. Lowe called the game Bingo instead of Beano after he overheard someone accidentally shout Bingo at a game.

As a proponent of the game, Lowe tapped Carl Leffler, a math professor from Columbia University, to maximize the combination of numbers possible on a bingo card. Leffler produced over 6,000 different number combinations. According to urban legend, Leffler lost his mind after that.

Meanwhile, Lowe introduced bingo to a Catholic priest who recognized it as an excellent fund-raising game for the church. US Bingo was introduced in Catholic churches and grew rapidly in popularity. According to some estimates from 1934, around 10,000 weekly bingo games were played in the US every week, in churches, gambling parlors, casinos, bingo halls, particularly in Nevada and New Jersey where it became big business.

Today, estimated bingo revenues exceed $90 million a week in North America alone. The game is also very popular in the United Kingdom as well as in Australia and New Zealand. The popularity of online bingo is projected to reach unprecedented heights, thanks to the boost provided by the Internet.

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