Prior to the meteoric rise of online bingo, the traditional hall based game – now sometimes hilariously referred to as ‘Land Bingo’ – was the dominant medium for the ball lottery game.
Despite generating billions of pounds in stake money and employing more than 20,000 people throughout the UK, the implementation of the ban on smoking in enclosed spaces across the UK forced many clubs to shut their doors forever. In Scotland 10 clubs had shut within months of the enforcement of the ban.
Before the ban, more people went to play bingo every week than went to Premier League football grounds. With an estimated 50% of bingo customers being smokers, the ban has hit the industry hard. No longer can players puff along to their game, instead they must head outside at the break. This not only affects the gate receipts, but also the refreshments side of things as clubs have traditionally made most of their money in the intervals of the main bingo session. Lower gates with a portion of these people heading out and elsewhere, has left many clubs in financial trouble.
The interval is traditionally when people play table top cash bingo – a faster version of the main game. Despite low stakes, table top bingo generates substantial profits representing a significant percentage of the total revenue. Gambling rules dictate that this version of the game can only be played during the interval; estimates suggest that almost half of the bingo hall customers head outside for a cigarette.
For a company in any industry, losing 40% of your bottom line is devastating. Significant drops in profits saw many clubs close almost immediately. Any argument for the bingo industry to be exempt from the ban was quickly quashed, as it would have to apply to other leisure industries as well. Ultimately the ban was introduced to protect people’s health; if this came at the expense of a few smaller bingo clubs, so be it, MP’s argued.
Many of these smaller clubs played, and still do play, important social roles in their communities. Thousands rely on their local bingo club, especially widows and widowers living alone. For them, bingo represents a great opportunity to go out and mix with other people.
Despite these closures, hope remains for ‘Land Bingo’ particularly in the shape of the two corporate giants which dominate the UK bingo landscape. They have adapted to the smoke-free world by pushing their online product and opening fully electronic clubs in a bid to entice a younger generation into their halls. Whether this works or not, only time will tell.