Think of bingo and you’ll doubtless picture a quiet room in which women with grey hair sit stooped over a card, dabbing at their numbers with each call that is made. Perhaps you might picture a slightly more modern look, with the likes of a Mecca Bingo hall being conjured up by your imagination, complete with the ever-so-slightly younger crowd listening to the person on the microphone calling out two fat ladies, etc.
What only a small percentage of you will picture is a bingo night that is more akin to a rave than the more sedate world we’ve come to expect from the world of bingo. The likes of Bongo’s Bingo and Rebel Bingo have slowly revolutionised one of the gambling industry’s most classic games, making the night as much about having a party as trying to make your numbers off as the tumble out of the machine.
Bingo for Millennials
There’s no getting away from the fact that bingo is typically thought of as being a fusty and boring activity generally aimed at older people. The problem for bingo organisers is that the target market is not one that is likely to spend lots of money and is certainly unlikely to be one that they can bank on in the long-term. As a result, some clever entrepreneurs decided to try to engage a much younger audience in playing bingo.
It is not as if bingo has never appealing to a younger market, but generally speaking, the younger people tended to get involved in the game because they went along to play it with their gran or grandad to keep them company, rather than playing it with their friends. Millennials soon began to identify bingo as a relatively cheap and cheerful way to enjoy online betting, taking to the online bingo market in a big way.
Even so, that was not a market that brought in younger people in their droves. It was in this new realm of bingo that Jonny Bongo and his friend Joshua Burke decided to launch Bongo’s Bingo in 2015, realising that if they made it a social media-friendly event then it would soon begin to attract a new audience. So it was that the night involved breaks for dancing, random prizes and confetti cannons being fired by men in drag.
The remarkable thing about Bongo’s Bingo isn’t so much the manner in which people dance, sing and generally have a laugh but rather how seriously they take the bingo aspect of the night when the numbers start being called. A venue can move from raucous entertainment to virtual silence as people pick up their pens and mark their numbers off, moments after cheering a man dressed in a chicken suit.
Novelty Nights Out
Joshua Burke knows that the key to Bongo’s Bingo’s success is the fact that it provides people with a novelty night out. They want, he says, ‘events that are different and experiential’. Bongo’s Bingo was popularised in Liverpool, but soon began hosting nights in the likes of Cardiff, with events staged in Paris, Australia and even Dubai. A rival company, Rebel Bingo, has hosted nights in New York and Ibiza.
Freddie Sorensen, one of the founders of Rebel Bingo, said that part of the reason for the success of such nights is that people no longer want to go to the pub for a catch up because social media has made doing that all but pointless. Instead, he said, “People want a story to hang their night off, so we tried various things and somewhere along the line it was the bingo that took off.”
At a time when attendance at regular bingo halls had been on the decline for years, the popularity of alternative bingo nights caught the attention of bingo’s traditionalists. Rank worked with Sorensen to launch ‘The Social Bingo Academy’, with 18-24-year-olds becoming the fastest growing group of players of bingo for the company. The share went from 7% in 2014 to 14% just four years later, demonstrating its success.
Snapchattable & Instagrammable
Peter Marks is a veteran of the nightclub scene and believes that what consumers want is an experience that is ‘Snapchattable and Instagrammable’. Young people want to have a laugh with the friends but also to be able to share the laugh they’re having with others as much as possible. Having previously been seen as a working class pursuit, bingo has become the go-to event of millennials hoping for a fun night out.
It is bingo with a twist that makes the events what they are, however. Calling out numbers alone wouldn’t be enough to engage most people, so the popularised version of the game does something different to capture the imagination of the players. DJs bang out tunes, whilst butlers in the buff serve Prosecco to players and drag queens add a touch of comedy to proceedings.
Different Bingo Nights Appeal to Different Audiences
Whilst the likes of Bongo’s Bingo and Rebel Bingo are the best-known bingo nights around, they’re not the only ones. There are a wealth of different bingo events that are aimed at appealing to different audiences, such as Reggae Bingo in London. There you can enjoy the likes of TikTok dance-offs, the chance to win prizes and a night of bingo all to the background of some excellent reggae music.
There is even a bingo night that is aimed at singletons, with Valentine’s Dating Bingo promising people the chance to meet others whilst playing a few games of 36-ball bingo. This is something of a combination of a singles night and a bingo evening, with players invited to sign up for an app that lets them try to find someone that tickles their fancy once the balls have all been pulled out and marked off.
Whether you enjoy musicals, drag nights or prefer the idea of dressing up to the nines and dancing, the chances are high that there will be a bingo night for you. Indeed, one of the only nights that hasn’t yet made it to the big time is one that is aimed at sober people, given the extent to which alcohol consumption is pretty high on the list of most of the nights that you can attend for some bingo-based fun.
Wild Nights Are Common
Perhaps one of the most joyous things about the new form of bingo is the fact that you never quite know what your night is going to entail. The new world of bingo is not for the feint-hearted, being as much of a rave as a chance to win prizes. They welcome people of all ages, from 18 to 92, but those that can’t cope with strobe lights and loud music will not enjoy themselves all that much.
It is a sign of the popularity of these rave bingo nights that they’re not held in small venues such as village halls, but rather in locations that can allow hundreds of people to attend. That they are so inclusive, allowing for a combination of a session at the bingo and a night at a club, that the events usually sell out within minutes of tickets going on sale. The night is filled with high energy that never drops from the moment it begins.
The Bingo Is Relevant
Given all of the talk so far about the party atmosphere of rave bingo nights, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the bingo itself is of secondary importance. That is not the case, with almost complete silence descending over locations when the numbers start being called. The numbers are usually accompanied by their own special calls that are decidedly more 18-plus than you’d expect to experience at a Gala Bingo club.
The prizes on offer range from the quirky to the downright weird, with some cash thrown in there to keep things interesting. You might win a cuddly unicorn, for example, or end up taking home £1,000. Life-sized cutouts of celebrities like Philip Schofield, Ainsley Harriott and David Dickinson aren’t out of the realms of the possible, whilst the winner of the box of Coco Pops will be disappointed to learn that tradition dictates that they spray it over the crowd rather than take it home with them.
How It Actually Works
Obviously each bingo night has its own quirks and eccentricities, but there is a vague formula to how it works. Those in attendance will be given bingo cards filled with numbers and pens with which to mark those numbers off as they’re called out. As with more traditional bingo, a machine will generate a number that is called out over the microphone, complete with its own amusing bingo call.
These bingo calls are interspersed with party moments, given that some numbers are accompanied by musical interludes that cause people to jump on the tables to dance. You might even be asked to chant along with something, all the while remembering to mark off the number that has been called on your card. There are indicator boards around the venue, should you have been too caught up in the excitement and missed the number.
The second you have filled in your line, two lines or full house, you shout out ‘Bingo’ and an assistant will come along and check your card against the numbers that have been called. You’ll win the prize on offer if you were right, but woe-betide you if you haven’t been paying attention and make an incorrect call. The bingo caller will have no problem in mocking you mercilessly and getting everyone else in attendance to join in with them.
You Can Even Only Do the Bingo
Quite why someone would want to turn up to one of the evenings mentioned on this page and only play bingo is a question that is difficult to answer, but it is nevertheless an option should people wish to take it. You can, should you wish, simply buy your gambling stake prior to turning up for the evening and you will not be charged a participation or entrance fee, instead being directed to an area that is only for those playing bingo.
On the Bongo’s Bingo site, the following statement is there to confirm the ability to turn up and only play the bingo:
A participation/entrance fee is not charged if you wish to only play bingo, providing you have purchased your gambling stake prior to attending. Bingo only activities will be held in separate areas and whilst no participation/entrance fee will be required, only those individuals placing stakes will be permitted to play the bingo provided.
If you’re the sort of person that enjoys bingo but doesn’t particularly enjoy the sort of fun that accompanies a themed night, it might make more sense for you to spend your money attending a night at a traditional bingo hall. After all, these rave nights are loud, bright, exciting and very much aimed at an audience that wants to party as much as they want to keep an eye out for two fat ladies.