One of the most ubiquitous aspects of gaming in the UK is the bingo hall. Though not many dot the streets today, they were an incredibly popular way to spend an afternoon or an evening during the last half-century.
In fact, up until 2005, new bingo halls were opening regularly throughout the country.
At that time, there were around 600 physical bingo halls in the UK, according to the UK Gaming Commission. But in only one decade, that number would be slashed by 30%. From 2005 to 2014, a huge push for online gaming started to revolutionize the way people sought out their next bingo experience.
The desire for a more centralized and convenient gaming destination didn’t just shake up the UK’s bingo sector. It had a far-reaching effect on how bingo and casino operations around the world functioned. Without an online counterpart, companies risked losing customers and business.
The switch online hasn’t strictly been about convenience or variety. For some companies, it’s also about innovation. In an online setting, it’s easier to try out new game types. For example, one new variation on a classic is 21+3, which combines the fundamentals of blackjack with hand rankings from three-card stud poker.
Bingo operations that launched online have had similar freedom… but there’s an important caveat that differentiates bingo from card games like poker and blackjack. For many, the bingo hall was also a social experience. But with fewer than 200 bingo halls left in operation, is the live bingo hall a relic of the past?
A New Generation of Bingo Players
While bingo halls were closing across the country, online bingo companies saw a huge uptick. By 2012, the UKGC reported that the online bingo market had ballooned to a worth of £259 million. But, for a hobby that’s largely associated with older generations, how were non-digital natives making this leap online?
It seems the UK’s younger gamers have been leading this charge, rather than older gamers. The BBC reported that the average age of bingo-goers was around 60 back in 2016, while one study from a local bingo company found that 20% of their online players were between the ages of 18-24.
Clearly, bingo isn’t dying in the UK—in fact, it’s still incredibly popular. It’s just hidden in cyberspace. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s still a social atmosphere.
The Online Chat
Anyone who’s been to a bingo hall or bingo event knows the atmosphere can be a bit stony; players only speak when there’s a break between play to make sure they’re hearing each number as it’s called. But, between games and during breaks, the room gets lively with happy conversation.
When bingo developers started looking to launch an online counterpart to the bingo hall, they knew recreating this social element would be important. For this reason, most sites have live chats where players can drop a line to one another during play.
Just like certain bingo halls had a set of regulars and a specific type of style and atmosphere, each online bingo hall allows players to select who will play with them. This lets players curate their own bingo atmosphere, letting them recreate the days of yore or invite new friends who have never played before.
The Move Back to the Bingo Hall
The bingo hall became an ingrained part of British culture after it was legalized in the 1960s. From there, bingo halls became one of the biggest social scenes around the country. Since the 2005 move online, bingo halls have slowly closed down… but that doesn’t mean they’re gone for good.
With the popularity of online bingo hinting that it’s still a relevant game for Brits, some groups have launched a reinvented bingo hall that’s geared toward younger players. In Manchester and Liverpool, there are companies that have designed their bingo halls to be trendy—some, like Dabbers, even include guest DJs.
While the long-term viability of such projects has yet to be proven, their existence suggests that the physical bingo hall is likely to stay.