This summer, more than 470,000 people flocked to Wimbledon, the UK’s most popular tennis tournament. If the UK held an international bingo tournament, how many people do you think would turn up? Staggeringly, the figure could be similar. According to research published at the end of last year, bingo is officially more popular than tennis. This is thanks not to a resurgence in the popularity of bingo halls, but to increased participation in bingo online.
According to the BBC, there were just 20 bingo websites operating in the UK in 2004. 10 years later, there were 350. That number is still rising. Which Bingo counted six brand new bingo websites in the month of September alone. But what has caused the rise of online bingo, and can the bingo industry grow even bigger?
Online bingo is convenient and comfortable
For decades, bingo was played within the confines of bingo halls. It was seen as the pursuit of older women, who would attend bingo halls in social groups. Now, the average bingo player is still a woman, but she plays on a mobile, tablet or laptop in her own home on up–and–coming and popular sites such as bingoplay.co.uk and BOOMTOWNBINGO. Yes, she is fierce!
The driving factor in this change could be the rise of the internet itself. As more homes gained access to fast online connections, everything moved online – shopping, banking, news, socialising, dating, the list goes on. It’s therefore no surprise that bingo fell into this pattern.
But online bingo would never have caught on were it not for a number of bingo websites springing up in the first place. Some bingo hall chains such as Mecca created online versions of the game in hopes of capitalising on brand loyalty. Some websites, such as online betting site MyLotto24, offer a range of online gambling games, bingo included among them.
These bingo services position themselves alongside ‘timewasting’ mobile games like Angry Birds, but with the added advantage of offering financial gain. And they have been heavily marketed across all media as a fun way to spend your time.
Online bingo can be glamorous
You’ve probably seen the adverts. Gala Bingo (with the “Gala-la-la” song), Foxy Bingo (with the purple suited man-fox), and Jackpotjoy (with Barbara Windsor) have all taken over our TV screens, particularly during daytime TV advert breaks. Though playing bingo on the sofa with a smartphone might not be most people’s idea of glamour, these marketing campaigns presents online bingo as stylish, slick, and sociable.
Branding like this has helped create the profile of the average online bingo player. Most of them are women, who play bingo during the day to relax, rather than to win money. Note that the cash prizes are rarely the key selling point in bingo adverts. Since bingo is a game of pure chance, rather than skill, it’s for the best that players don’t expect to win big. This is not comparable to the wider world of online betting, where gamblers weigh up the odds and place bets tactically. Instead, online bingo is a way to take a break.
Online bingo adverts are conveniently placed during the breaks of daytime television programs; they provide a simple distraction, the perfect way to pass the time while you wait for the next episode of Jeremy Kyle or Loose Women to air. It could be this pivot in the purpose of the game that keeps online bingo growing exponentially.
Bingo halls may never recover
Online bingo is no longer competing with other nights or days out. Players can check their scorecards anytime, wherever they are. But they mostly do it when they’re at home. Now bingo apps are alternatives to mobile games, it doesn’t make too much sense to hold bingo nights at large venues. And if anyone did, there is nothing to indicate the game’s online popularity would translate into real world attendance.
The largest bingo hall chains, like Mecca and Gala, still have several halls open to the public, but it’s notable that these brands also excel in the online space. In 2015, VICE reported that 200 bingo halls had closed in the UK since 2005. It’s no coincidence that, as mentioned, bingo websites began to pick up steam in 2004.
Those who relied on bingo halls for a sense of community have been left out in the cold by these closures. For better or worse, bingo is now something that takes place on a glass screen, and it looks like it’s set to stay that way.