Bingo Through the Decades
Over the last half-century, bingo has taken hold of the UK audience in a big way, reaching hundreds of thousands of players and raking in billions of pounds in annual stakes. It all started, strangely enough, with the television. Step back to the 1950s and take a peek at where the excitement all began.
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1950s — The Failing Theatre Gives Rise to Bingo
Entertainment got a dramatic facelift in the 1950s with the rise of television. When the 1953 Coronation was broadcast, over 20 million viewers tuned in across the UK. Social habits took a dramatic turn as people moved away from cinemas and gave their attention to the smaller screen instead. Theatres began closing en masse, with both Rank Organisation and Associated British Cinemas (ABCs) closing their doors. Though the connection wasn’t immediately obvious, these activities were paving the way for a resurgence of bingo in the UK.
1960s — The Debut of the Bingo House
The 1960s brought major changes to gaming laws in the UK, revitalising this industry and putting bingo on the map in a big way. In 1961, the country legalised gambling for small sums; betting shop operations also became legal. Failing theatre houses saw their opportunity for a fresh revitalisation.
The Odeon Theatre screened its last programme on 20 May 1961 and immediately transitioned into the Top Rank Bingo Club. Though notable for being one of the first to make this transition, it was far from the only theatre to take this approach. In 1963, the failing Gaumont Theatre followed suit and became the Top Rank Bingo and Social Club, with comedian Tommy Trinder and television presenter Shelagh Kennedy presiding over the opening ceremony.
1970s - A Working Class Staple
Interest in bingo grew steadily through the 1960s, peaking in the middle of the 1970s. At the height of its popularity, there were nearly 2,000 bingo clubs in the UK. It was a popular activity for those in the working class, becoming a much-anticipated part of the weekly routine. Peter Lazenby fondly recalls serving on the committee of the Hawkhill Social Club and taking his regular turn calling Sunday night bingo for a gathering of about 30 people. For him, the duty “was a serious commitment,” and for many of the regulars playing, it was the “highlight of their week.”
1980s - Purpose-Built Halls Take Hold
By the 1980s, bingo was well-established as a popular pastime in the UK. The first purpose-built bingo hall, the Castle Club at Canton in Cardiff, opened in 1988. Others sprang up soon after, replacing some of the repurposed theatre settings.
Many existing establishments rapidly changed hands as major gaming companies fought to dominate the market. ABCs, acquired by Star in 1970, passed to Bass Leisure in 1981. Though the number of bingo venues fell to 1,600 by the mid-80s, some of the decline was due to reigning companies expanding their operations and putting smaller establishments out of business.
1990s - The Market Settles
During the 1990s, major gaming chains began to emerge victorious from the sales and negotiations of the previous decade. Clubs like Gala and Mecca established market dominance, while many older bingo clubs went out of business. Many of the buildings that began their life as theatres moved on yet again to new purposes, ceasing bingo operations to try their luck as pubs or arcades.
2000s - Internet Bingo Begins
Though bingo halls were less prevalent by the turn of the century, the game was no less profitable. Gala, the largest bingo operator in the UK, held a 40 percent share in the game with 166 clubs in 2003. The coveted company changed hands twice during the decade.
In mid-2007, a public smoking ban in the UK put a damper on the activities in many bingo facilities. As live bingo games fell out of favour, online bingo began to take hold. In the middle of the decade, bingo was reported as the number one leisure activity for women aged 20 to 25 years.
Today - Modern Players Gather Online
Online bingo has given this game new life and a younger customer base. In 2011, there were 3.4 million online bingo players pouring £600 million into the game each year. Over 20 percent of these players were between the ages of 18 and 25. Annual bingo stakes peaked in the UK in 2012 at over £1.3 billion. Though they decreased steadily over the following years, stakes were still respectable in 2015 at well over £1.1 billion.
Bingo’s enduring popularity has made it a notable part of UK culture for over 60 years. Take an interactive journey through the game’s history while enjoying some bingo fun yourself with the limited time Time Warp experience from Wink Bingo.