Welsh men are perhaps best known for singing baritone or charging around a rugby pitch – but could online bingo be the new national pastime? 

Welsh Male Bingo Players

“I won £4,000 the first time I ever played bingo,” reveals Stuart, an office manager who lives in South Wales. “I was 18 at the time, and I'd only gone to bingo to take my grandmother. She’d been in ill-health, so she hadn't been for a long time, and I took her as a treat,” recalls Stuart, adding: “I was shocked, because I thought I'd only won a £40 house - until the club staff came over and told me it had been a link with other clubs and the prize was £4,000!”

Stuart’s grandmother had insisted on buying the tickets for both of them – but she refused to take a penny of Stuart’s winnings. “We agreed before the game started that if either of us won, we'd keep the prize ourselves, but when I won such a big amount, I offered her half,” says Stuart. “She wouldn’t take it, though. Her reaction was, “I've got no need for it - I don't go anywhere to spend it,” so I got to keep it all – I couldn’t believe it!”

While Stuart’s grandmother was happy for him, the club regulars weren’t quite so generous in spirit. “They grumbled a bit, but in the end they all congratulated me,” laughs Stuart, who spent the money on a three month trip to America. “I'd planned a short trip before the win, but the extra money meant I could extend it, and properly spoil myself.” Looking back, Stuart says: “I think that win definitely cemented my love of bingo!”

Now 35, Stuart’s an avid online bingo player. He’s been playing nightly for the last four years, since his friend Tanya gave him a £5 free credit to sign up. “I'm not much of a TV watcher, so I use it to pass the time,” says Stuart.

The first time Stuart played bingo online, he had a second burst of beginner’s luck, winning £1,200. Tanya was the first person he told. “She’s never won more than £50 on the site, so let’s just say the air was blue!” jokes Stuart, adding, “she's never let me forget it”

At the time of the win, Stuart had just moved into a new flat, so his winnings covered all his moving and decorating costs. The flat was Stuart’s first step on the property ladder, and his first home after moving out of his parents’ house – which meant it was especially important to get everything right. “It was perfect timing,” says Stuart, who admits, “these days I’m far less fussy!”

Stuart’s winnings also stretched to celebratory drinks. “I had a few more nights out in Cardiff than I would normally have been able to justify that month,” says Stuart, who bought drinks for all his friends. “No bubbly though, because I'm not a fan! It's overrated in my opinion!”

Since then, Stuart’s had several wins of £140 and despite the bar being set high by the huge windfalls he’s had previously, Stuart still gets excited. “£140 isn’t bad considering it was only 10p a ticket, and any win is exciting - especially if it's for more than I've spent out that day.” He adds, “I rarely play without winning enough to cover my day’s play - I'm pretty lucky like that!”

Most of Stuart’s smaller wins have gone on day to day things, “but I used my last win to buy a new jacket I'd been fancying. It was £120, which is more than I'd normally allow myself to splash out on a single item - I'm pretty frugal usually!” Despite the extravagance, Stuart has no regrets. “I'm glad I bought it - especially given the current weather – it’s the warmest jacket I've ever owned!”

Bingo - not for females only anymore!

While bingo used to be seen as a game for women – particularly older women – Stuart is one of a growing number of men who play free bingo games online, and he thinks the stereotype is outdated. “I think the idea of bingo being a granny's game definitely doesn't exist anymore - at least, it doesn't amongst my friends, who are all pretty young. In fact, I'd actually say bingo’s become quite trendy recently!”

For Stuart’s friends, playing bingo is the norm – and he thinks more men are playing bingo than women. “I think most of the men I know are muscling in on their partner’s enjoyment of it. They’ve also realised how much cheaper the drinks tend to be in bingo clubs than elsewhere, and then once they’re into it, they start playing online because it’s a cheaper way to play. Here in South Wales, a night out at a bingo club costs about £25, but the same number of games online costs less than a tenner!”

Stuart occasionally posts "Thanks for the win!" after getting a prize, but he doesn’t tend to use the chat facilities, “unless a conversation the chatroom users are having happens to catch my attention!” 

For 20 year old Jordan, however, chatting to other bingo players is part of the experience of playing bingo online. “We talk about movies or what everyone’s doing at home - that sort of stuff. When you see the same people online regularly, you start making friends. It’s nice to talk to other people while you’re playing - especially the admins in the chat rooms on the bingo website, because they make such an effort to interact with everyone and to help.”

Jordan, who’s also from Wales, started playing bingo two years ago, when his aunt told him about an offer that meant he was guaranteed to win something. “I gave it a shot and she was right,” says Jordan, who won over £130 that night. Jordan, who’s studying Work Skills at college, currently lives with his parents. “I don’t have any bills to worry about, so I spent the money on PS4 games, going to the cinema and meeting up with friends,” he says.

Jordan plays bingo a few times a month. “I’m not a massive gambler – I just put money on it if I’ve got nothing else to do with it,” he explains, but when he does play, it tends to be a family affair. “My dad plays now and then, and both my aunties are regulars – they’ve been playing for years,” says Jordan, “so I normally play with my aunty and cousin, at home on the computer, or on our phones. We joke about, like, “give me some of your winnings!” but we’re not really competitive,” laughs Jordan.

Jordan sometimes plays when he’s out and about. “Sometimes I’ll sit in McDonald’s and make the most of the free wifi, or I’ll play at college, in the canteen or the library, and sometimes when I’m in the shops. I’ll walk around Asda with my dad, playing bingo on my phone while he does the shopping – luckily I’ve never bumped into anyone!” 

For Jordan, the stereotypes around bingo are out of date – but he doesn’t think everyone’s got the memo. “In the old days, uk bingo was mainly for woman. Now it’s different, but I think there are still more women playing. I wouldn’t be bothered if my mates took the mick out of me for playing bingo, but they’re all fine with it. I think more men would enjoy it if they tried it!”

Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.