High street bingo halls in decline as web-based games flourish


With thousands of bingo games available across the web, high street bingo halls are continuing to decline.

The first bingo game ever recorded took place in Italy during the 1500s and is believed to have stemmed from the Italian lottery ‘Lo Guioco del Lotto D’Italia’. Later the game was picked up by Brits, however, it was American company, Bingo Zone, who launched the first online bingo site in 1996, bringing forth the game we know today.

Bingo on the high street

Bingo was popular in the UK since the First World War, but it wasn’t until the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 legalised bingo that it hit the high-street. Halls opened up across the country and within a few years membership had reached 14 million. By the 1980’s there were thousands of bingo venues within the UK and had become a popular pass time for many.

One avid bingo player, said: “I have been playing in bingo halls for years and I would recommend it to everyone. There is a brilliant atmosphere with good food and the chance to meet new people. The place is full of friends enjoying the evening and the game itself is great fun. I have never won a lot, but it’s all about taking part.”

When the concept first launched, bingo halls were an immediate success, with Mecca alone attracting 150,000 players a day to its bingo games. However, when the lottery began in 1994, bingo started to decline and the beginning of the high-street bust emerged.

Beginning of the bust

For the first time, bingo had competition and the introduction of the lottery was only just the beginning. The lottery was too similar to bingo, as both consisted of betting on numbers, but was achieved on a much higher level. Tens of thousands of people would play the lottery each week and were offered a life-altering amount of money.

Robert Williams, a Professor of Health Sciences at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, says: “Playing the lottery is merely a cheap form of entertainment — you spend $2 for the chance to fantasize about becoming a millionaire.”

Buying a lottery ticket gives people a thrill and with much more at stake than bingo it is easy to see why. In the 90’s the rapid rise of the lottery dominated all legalised betting and during the first few years resulted in a massive fall in bingo attendees. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of bingo clubs plummeted by 21%, and continued to suffer due to other events.

Smoking ban

Although, the first online bingo game was released in 1996, they didn’t take off for a while and the next major knock to bingo halls was the smoking ban. For some this was a breath of fresh air, but for others it caused an unwanted change to their nights out.

General Manager, Dave Marsden, explains: “We lost a third of admissions, because of the smoking ban. Back in 2007, I’d say 90% of the members where I worked smoked, the other 10% battled through, and I imagine it was similar across the country. The members were saying there’s no way we’re coming if we’ve got to wait two or three hours to go out and smoke.”

Miles Baron, CEO of the National Bingo Game Association, added: “When half of your customers smoke and at the same time online bingo is becoming more predominant in people’s lives, it was inevitable that the bingo hall business would suffer a sharp reversal.”

Many believe the smoking ban is the single biggest event to have impacted traditional bingo as bingo halls had to completely change the way they would run the game. Breaks were introduced to allow people to go out and smoke, however, profits continued to decline and online bingo games started to gain all the attention. 

Online offering

After the smoking ban, bingo was still enjoyed by millions of people all across the world with 3.8 million Britons still playing in bingo halls, but more UK homes had internet access and for most a game of bingo became just a few clicks away.

Easily accessible, the online bingo market received engagement from even more players and new people were trying out the game. Playing online gave people the freedom to access the game whenever it suited them and meant they could have a quick game amongst their busy day. It also offered heaps of extra benefits and there was a bigger variety of games, such as:

  • 75 ball in online bingo
  • 75 ball variant
  • 90 ball in online bingo

A spokesperson from Paddy Power, says: “Many people play online bingo because it’s convenient and there are more game variations available. In 2012, the UK online bingo market was worth a staggering £250 million and we expect this to grow with the introduction of gaming apps.”

In the UK 76% of adults own smartphones, so playing bingo has continued to get easier. With hundreds of apps downloaded every day, people can play on-the-go and high-street halls are feeling the burn.

High street bust

Since the launch of online games, the vast majority of land based bingo clubs have either downsized, or closed due to the lack of demand. There are few halls left and with the introduction of even more online bingo games, less people visit the remaining clubs.

To cope with this change, many companies have merged ownership, or decided to open online bingo sites of their own. It only seems to be the bigger chains that are still running, for those who still attend, and with nearly 350 bingo sites available across the UK and Ireland alone, it is no surprise the high-street clubs are in trouble.

Have your say and leave a comment about the decrease in bingo halls. Have you ever attended a bingo club or do you prefer to play online? Tell us which one you prefer and why.