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The year is 1961, the Swinging Sixties are just getting underway and the Berlin Wall, a powerful symbol of the Cold War is erected to divide East and West Germany.
Meanwhile here in the UK, London is quickly becoming the epicenter of a wave of modernity and fun-loving hedonism. The Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, Twiggy, and Jean Shrimpton are laying in wake to become Britain’s most iconic cultural exports of the decade.
Away from music and fashion, a new craze is sweeping the nation, fresh on the back of its legalization in 1960 as part of ‘The Betting and Gaming Act’ – bingo. The news is greeted enthusiastically by the public and leading social campaigners including Dr Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Act, which enabled bingo to move into the mainstream was a major success. Within 12 months of bingo’s legalization, there were a whopping 14 million registered players throughout the UK.
Whilst the Sixties are better known as a time when Britain was losing its cultural inhibitions, it was also a period in which en masse, Britain was playing bingo.
In this article, we take a closer look at bingo from the 1960s onwards and analyze how it went from the heading heights of then to the lows of the millennium and then, once again to great heights of online bingo sites in recent years.
1961 – 1995: Bingo’s Golden Era
Bingo’s evolution has turned the activity to a second-nature hobby for Britons.
For 34 years bingo was one of the most commonly attended leisure activities in the country, regularly attracting larger weekend crowds than the Football League. For bingo it was quite simply a case of being in the right place at the right time.
After the Second World War there was a growing appetite amongst the public for freer, more liberal laws. This ultimately led to the relaxation of gambling laws in 1960, but this zeitgeist of public opinion combined with the changing economic landscape also had a serious impact on many other areas of life.
By the time that bingo was legalised in 1960, it was becoming increasingly common for British families to move out of cities and into suburban areas. With traditional urban meeting areas not readily available in the suburbs, people required new areas to congregate and socialise.
Bingo halls, with their tightly packed tables, drinks offers and welcoming atmosphere became the perfect meeting place for those in the suburbs. During this period, an evening at the bingo was just as common and socially acceptable as an evening at the pub.
Over the course of the next three decades, bingo’s popularity rose to the point that it almost became second-nature to generations of Britons. Just as Dad might spend a Saturday at the football, Mum would spend her Friday evenings at the bingo.
In the 1990s though, a new cultural shift begun which sought to put bingo in the past.
1995- 2008: Bingo’s Gradual Decline
(‘Cool Britannia’ had no time for bingo in the 1990s.)
Just as in the Swinging Sixties, youngsters had been keen to distance themselves from their parents, younger generations in the nineties sought to do the same. Bingo unfortunately, became one of the pastimes heavily associated to the past and thus was consigned to the dumpster along with
Consigned to the dumpster along with the economic hardships of the Thatcher era and the seriousness of previous generations.
The youth of the 1990s were too busy doing ‘cool’ things to be bothered about smoky, dingy bingo halls that were populated by their parents. Which brings us on to another important factor in bingo’s decline – smoke.
In the mid-noughties, when bingo was already suffering from the negative image it had amongst the younger generation, it was hit by the news that smoking would be banned inside. This was bad news for bingo as a large percentage of its players chain-smoked through games and events.
(The Smoking Ban of 2007 was controversial with the public at the time, but it has since being widely praised.)
The Smoking Ban which came into effect in England in summer 2007 was heralded as the final nail in the coffin of the bingo industry. Some companies reported dramatic drops in playing numbers as high as 80% after the ban.
In the 12 months following the smoking ban, barely a week went by in which at least a dozen bingo halls didn’t close their doors for the final time. At the end of 2008 there were an estimated 1.5 million bingo players in the UK and just under 400 bingo halls.
The game hadn’t been read The Last Rites just yet, but it was seemingly in terminal decline.
2008 – Present: Bingo’s Revival
With the industry seemingly on its knees and consigned to the scrap heap, something strange and unexpected happened. Bingo was taken online.
This might not seem so strange to read now in 2022, but back in 2008 it was nothing short of startling. In the noughties Grandmas played bingo, whilst they knocked back whisky and gingers and smoked Regal Filters.
As a demographic, they were the last you would identify with modern technology such as the internet. Fortunately savvy bingo entrepreneurs recognised this and made a huge effort to market online bingo to a much younger generation of player.
Working Mums and Dads in their 30s were the new demographic targeted, and they lapped up online bingo in a way that shocked even the game’s most ardent supporters. Within a few years the industry saw its playing numbers double.
In the most recent years on record, online bingo has continued to grow, seeing rises in both playing numbers and revenues. Whilst the old style bingo halls of the past are now relics of the past, online bingo is very much a forward thinking industry with its heart set on big things.
In the years to come, don’t be too surprised to see bingo’s playing numbers rise steadily, perhaps even to the highs of the 1960s.