Were you to pop along to your local bingo hall you would, understandably, do so expecting to play bingo. There’s no question that that most traditional of English pastimes would be the overwhelming activity there, but anyone who has ever been to one will know that it’s far from the only thing that you can do with your time there.
Just as online bingo sites offer users plenty of different slot games to choose from to keep themselves entertained between bingo games, so too do real life bingo halls offer the same thing. There are numerous different electronic games that you can look towards when in a bingo hall, such is the nature of the way the establishments work.
Bingo Isn’t Just For The Old
To younger people, bingo still feels a bit like a joke; something that their elders would get involved with on a Friday night whilst the younger people went drinking and partying. In recent times there has been a concerted effort to change this, with adverts and promotions aimed at attracting younger audiences see a shift in demographic.
In 2016 the BBC published an article that confirmed that more than forty-five million people visit bingo halls every year and that the average age of those doing so is getting younger every year. The article came on the back of a new venue with a thousand seats opening in Southampton. An area manager for Mecca Bingo told the BBC that they were hoping that the average age could be reduced to around forty-one to forty-five.
there have been a number of new-look bingo games that have sprung up around the United Kingdom in recent times, with Bongo’s Bingo leading the charge. It combines the world of bingo with what is essentially a disco and a rave, with prizes including things like stuffed unicorns, Henry Hoovers and a mobility scooter. Sufficed to say it is a different type of bingo that Mecca and Gala are unlikely to replicate any time soon.
How Big Is Bingo?
In 2014 around £690 million was spent in bingo halls throughout the year. Industry research group Mintel forecast that that would grow to £728 million by 2019. In the end it proved to be a slight improvement, though not quite as much as had been predicted. The game of bingo was first played in the UK in the 1700s, with the 90-ball bingo game that most people know and love being popularised during the First World War. It didn’t become a legal for of gambling until the Betting & Gaming Act of 1960.
By the middle of the 1960s bingo club membership stood at around fourteen million and in the 1980s there more than sixteen hundred bingo halls around the country. From the mid-1990s until the turn of the millennium, however, the interest in bingo began to drop and around 21% of bingo halls closed. The launch of the National Lottery in 1994 and the smoking ban in 2006 and 2007 was largely believed to be behind the decline in interest in bingo. This combined with the 20% tax inflicted on bingo halls led to the decline.
The tax was halved in the budget in 2014, which was part of the reason for the decline being halted and bingo slowly but surely coming back into the public consciousness. The popularity of online bingo might also be influencing people’s desire to play it in real life, with the National Bingo Game Association estimating that around three and a half million people play bingo online compared with about fifty thousand in 2008.
Mintel have said that there are around three hundred and fifty bingo halls in the United Kingdom. It’s worth noting, though, that this number is always changing. New ones are opening and others are closing, meaning that it’s in a state of constant flux. One thing we can tell you is that there are nowhere near the same number of bingo halls now that there were when the game was at its pomp.
The Big Players In Bingo
In the world of physical bingo there are two main players: Gala and Mecca. Gala started life as a group of bingo halls operated by Bass Leisure, which was part of Bass plc. The company’s major expansion came in 1983 when it bought eighty bingo clubs from Thorn EMI, adding another thirty by purchasing Zetters Leisure in 1988. Granada plc’s seventy-four bingo clubs were added in 1991 and the chain was tied with Rank Organisation to make it the biggest bingo operator in the country.
The company took on its current moniker in 1991 when it rebranded itself as Gala, offering one hundred and thirty clubs when a management buy-in purchased them in 1997. Over the years that followed, Gala purchased several smaller companies to ensure that they were able to grow their brand more and more, leading to a sale of the company for £1.24 billion in 2003. It became the Gala Coral Group in 2005 when it acquired Coral Eurobet for £2.18 billion. Gala Coral was taken over by Ladbrokes in November of 2016.
Mecca Bingo, on the other hand, has always been a slightly smaller operation. Now owned by The Rank Group, Mecca became popular in the 1960s when Eric Morley, who was a TV host and was also the General Manager of dancing at Mecca in 1952, used the game of bingo as a way of attracting people in to fill the dance halls. It was his work that saw Mecca move from being a small firm that organised catering and dancing events to one of the biggest bingo companies in the country. Mecca was acquired by The Rank Group in 1990 for £512 million.
Other companies that operate bingo halls throughout the United Kingdom include the following:
- Apollo Bingo
- Carlton Bingo
- Club 3000 Bingo
- Dabbers Social Bingo
- Empire Bingo
- Majestic Bingo
- Palace Bingo Club
Obviously that list is far from exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of the sort of smaller, local bingo clubs that are still in existence around the UK and offer people the chance to play bingo without needing to go to one of the bingo behemoths in order to do so.
The Rules And Regulations
There is no legal ruling to say that everyone in a bingo hall has to be over the age of eighteen, but most bingo clubs choose to operate such a policy regardless. Even those that do allow people under the age of eighteen to enter the premises have to ensure that they don’t play the bingo games on offer. Bingo halls that offer Category B and C machines must put these in a separate area that is restricted to over eighteens only.
Private members’ clubs and institutes are able to allow under eighteens to play bingo games on their premises, but they have to be members of the club. If the club’s membership rules say that people have to be over the age of eighteen before joining then obviously they will not then be allowed to play bingo. In other clubs, with Mecca and Gala being good examples, people have to be over the age of eighteen to join.
Whilst you technically have to have joined the likes of Mecca and Gala before you’re allowed to play the bingo on offer there, it is easy enough to join and you’re given a non-transferable membership card that must be produced when hoping to enter a Mecca or Gala club. Other, smaller clubs will have their own rules but they all operate in roughly the same way.
Other Things Of Note
There are obviously many different things that we could tell you about bingo and bingo halls, but not all of them are relevant to what we’re talking about here. The main thing is to find out what you need to know about bingo clubs before you turn up at them and wish to play one the casino games and bingo offerings within the doors.
One such thing to tell you about is networked jackpots, which are commonly played for at clubs like Gala and Mecca where there are numerous different clubs that are part of the same network. These jackpots are often worth a decent amount of money, such as the £15,000 won by players of the National Bingo Game at the same Mecca Bingo site twice in the space of a week.
These jackpots work differently depending on the club that offers it, but at National Bingo Game player must call House within the following number of calls:
- Within 16 numbers or less: £50,000
- Within 20 numbers or less: £1,000
- Within 24 numbers or less: £100
The National Bingo Game is open to members of Gala, Mecca, Majestic, Carlton, Beacon and Castle Bingo clubs, hence the reason the prize can get quite high.
Other things you might be interested to know include how much games cost to play, how often they take place and so on. Unfortunately that’s not something that we can answer easily, largely because different clubs have different rules. Generally speaking games are played throughout the week and are on offer for different values, so it’s always worth contacting your local club to see what they’ve got going on at any given moment.