The Bingo Card: History, Fun Facts, and Tips on Card Selection

bingoYou can’t play bingo without a bingo card. Also called as a “ticket” or “housie” in UK-style bingo, the omnipresent bingo card has an interesting background that reflects the development of the game throughout history.

The ancestor of modern day bingo, Lo Gioco del Lotto d’Italia (literal translation: lottery of Italy), employed cards in the same way we pick bets on a lottery game- players place their bets on numbers that they deem will be called out. As bingo evolved to the game we know it today, so did the cards underwent a transformation. The man who introduced bingo to the United States, Edwin Lowe, standardized the look of the cards. From the lottery-style cards in the 1700s, Lowe’s bingo card was printed out on heavy cardboard using a rubber stamp and was often reusable. Players did not daub or mark their cards directly, but rather, used tokens and other small objects as number markers. Over time, more and more bingo halls started favoring cards that were printed out on paper or cheap cardboard (since thick cardstock was particularly expensive). This transition also gave players the option to directly mark out their cards with pens or daubers. In some bingo halls, there exists “flimsies” which are multiple cards printed out on a single sheet of paper.

The Leffler Myth

One of the common myths about the history of bingo is that Edwin Lowe once commissioned a certain mathematician and professor from Columbia University named Carl Leffler to create 6,000 unique cards for the new game that Lowe was promoting in the states. Due to the pressure of keeping up with Lowe’s order, Leffler was supposedly driven insane by the sheer effort of thinking up new number combinations for the cards.

While the Leffler affair is an interesting story, unfortunately, the origins of the rumor remain unverified. It’s hard to imagine a competent mathematician being driven to madness by just a simple task alone. Coming up with new combinations for the cards is not that an onerous a process; using random permutation, there are practically a trillion ways with which the numbers on a bingo card can be uniquely arranged- Leffler would not have run out of new number combinations so easily! In fact, it is said that the professor was able to complete the task in just under a year, so it wasn’t really that much of a job as the myth makes it out to be.

Card Selection Tips

While bingo primarily is a game of chance, the cards that a player selects can influence his or her chances of hitting a jackpot.

For example, playing multiple cards gives you a bigger chance of getting a bingo. If you play 4 cards at a time and there are currently 40 people playing with you, then your odds are at 4/40 or 1/10.

Also take advantage of games wherein players are allowed to select their own cards. Arrive early so you can get the best ones. Make sure to look for cards with different numbers and combinations on them so you can maximize your chances.


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