In the UK, bingo has always been insanely popular. Though anyone can play it, the game is particularly known to be the realm of old people. Bingo halls function both as a gambling establishment and de-facto social center for seniors. These are the places where they go to enjoy the company of their peers, as well as immerse themselves in the fun camaraderie that bingo brings.
But as that song from Bob Dylan goes, “…the times they are a-changin.” Bingo culture is now undergoing a process of reinvention, trying to make itself relevant to the fast-paced world of the 21st century.
It all started with a number of legal setbacks. Back in 2007, a law was implemented by the UK government that banned smoking from all public places- this included bingo halls. The exodus of older bingo patrons who smoked dealt a huge blow to the already dwindling bingo industry.
Aside from the smoking ban, modernity has stripped much of bingo’s traditional old-school appeal. For example, the bingo halls of old utilized brightly colored balls for drawing numbers. Now, a computerized machine called a Random Number Generator takes care of the task that was once an indispensable part in bingo culture. The practice of assigning and announcing humorous quips and nicknames for certain numbers (i.e. legs 11, two little ducks 22, two fat ladies 88, etcetera) has also gone out of fashion. Modern bingo callers announce numbers in monotone voices, with no comedic inflection whatsoever.
The rise of online gaming, the global recession, and the imposition of high tax rates on gambling establishments slowly ate away at the dwindling customer base of the remaining bingo halls that are in existence by the mid 2000s. From the 600 bingo halls that are in existence in the UK in the years 2005-2006, the number has almost been cut in half by the beginning of this decade. Just last year alone, 17 bingo halls finally closed down for good.
But there is a silver lining to all of these. Since old people are avoiding their once-favorite past time, the young people are going in droves to fill in the gaps the seniors have left behind.
And bingo hall owners are taking note of this new development in the reinvention of bingo culture. Today, there are bingo halls where players can bring their own drinks. There are even high tech bingo halls where the use of the traditional cards and daubbers is completely discarded with; these old-school equipment are replaced with handheld gaming terminals that do all of the daubbing and playing for the players so that they can focus more on socializing. Players can mingle with each other, and cheer (and even boo!) those who manage hit a bingo. The bingo culture of today has new social dynamics that were absent from the time when our grandparents were playing. It is more lively, fun, and social-oriented.
We can expect that the youth demographic will be able to reinvigorate the dying bingo industry in a few years. Yuppies and hipsters alike are attracted to the nostalgia that bingo offers, but they’re willing to make the game into something.