Bingo is one of the most popular games of chance in the world. It may be the form of gambling that’s most often legally played outside of casinos, although many casinos do feature bingo halls that can hold hundreds or even thousands of players, where winners can take home huge cash prizes. Standalone bingo halls – some of which run their own games, while other rent out their facilities to other groups – are also popular.
However, most players are probably more familiar with bingo as a game used to raise money for churches, local organizations, or charity groups. These games usually offer small cash prizes (with perhaps one larger cash prize game being played during each session), and are mostly popular for their social aspect; unlike most gambling games, bingo’s primary audience is made up of women.
Depending on where you live, the game you think of when you hear the name “bingo” might be one of two games. While both games share some similarities, they’re clearly distinct games. The two forms can be broadly categorized as North American Bingo and Commonwealth Bingo.
North American Bingo
North American Bingo was developed in the 1920s, and is the format of the game played nearly exclusively in the United States and Canada. In this game, players buy a number of cards (usually made of paper or card stock) that contain five columns of numbers, each of which contains five numbers, for a total of 25 spots. However, the center spot on the card is typically used as a “free spot,” meaning that there are usually only 24 numbers on a card. The columns are typically labeled with the letters B-I-N-G-O.
During the game, a caller randomly selects balls or uses another similar method (such as a random number generator) to draw the numbers that will be called. These numbers range from 1-75, with 15 numbers being assigned to each column as follows:
When a number is drawn, the caller will announce both the letter and the number to help ensure that the result of each draw is clear. For instance, if the 47 ball is drawn, the call would be G-47.
Each card has a random assortment of these numbers, and in any given game, it is extremely unlikely that any two cards in play will be exactly the same. In fact, the number of possible cards is extraordinarily large, the exact number being the following:
In a typical bingo game, players may purchase as many cards as they like, with players who buy 10, 20, 30 or more cards being common. As numbers are called, players mark off those numbers on any cards on which they appear. Players typically use chips, markers or blotters (also known as “dabbers”) to keep track of the numbers that have been called.
The winner of each game is the player who first makes a specified pattern on one of their bingo cards. In most games, this means making a straight line of five numbers, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally (including using the free space, if available). However, other patterns are also possible, such as “four corners,” in which players much cover the four corner squares to win, or covering the entire card, known as a “cover-all” game.
Traditionally, the winner of a game is expected to shout “Bingo!” when they’ve completed the pattern necessary for winning the game. At that point, the card will be checked by one of the game’s operators, who will verify that there is indeed a bingo. Usually, this ends the game, though some games will have multiple stages; for instance, a bingo game could give a prize to the first person to complete a line, and then a larger prize for the first person to cover their entire card. Some games even feature a progressive jackpot, usually requiring someone to win a coverall game within a certain number of draws in order to claim the prize.
Commonwealth Bingo, which is also known as Housie, is the format of the game commonly played in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and India. Like North American Bingo, it relies on numbers being called and players filling out cards that contain randomly generated numbers. However, the specifics of gameplay are actually quite different.
In Commonwealth Bingo, a typical card contains nine columns with three rows, for a total of 27 spots. Each row will contain exactly five numbers, along with four blank spaces. In addition, each column will contain at least one number, though some may contain two or three numbers.
In this version of the game, 90 numbers are used. The first column contains numbers between 1-9, the second has numbers between 10-19, and so on through the last column, which features numbers 80-90. Numbers are randomly assigned to each card. Typically, when a player shows up to play, they can purchase books that contain cards for each of the games that will be played that night (often 50). Players are allowed to purchase multiple books; playing a set of six books that contains one of every number is a popular method of play, since this ensures the player will always be able to mark off a spot on one of their cards each time a number is called.
The game begins with a caller saying “eyes down” to alert players that the next game is starting. Numbers are drawn either from balls or counters, or by using a random number generator. As the numbers are called, players keep track of those that have been called by using chips or dabbers.
In order to win a game of Commonwealth Bingo, a player must usually cover all five numbers that cover one of the horizontal lines on their card. However, games that require players to cover two lines of numbers (Two Lines) or to cover all of the numbers on their card (Full House) are common too, especially in games that are offering larger prizes. Some games will offer multiple prizes: first for the player who fills a line, then a two line prize, and finally a full house prize.
When a player has completed the requirements for winning a prize, the player is expected to draw attention to that fact by shouting; saying “bingo,” “yes,” or “house” are common ways of doing so. In most games, the rules require a player to announce their winning card as soon as the winning number is drawn; if a player doesn’t notice or waits too long to announce their win, allowing the next ball to be drawn, their ticket is considered void. After declaring a win, the player must have their card validated, either automatically (where electronic systems are available, such as in large bingo halls) or with the help of the caller.