Beano to Bingo

From Beano to Bingo: What’s the Story

Bingo, popularized with a whole new audience online at sites like Jackpotjoy, has had a long, fascinating history. In the US, the first recognizable form of the game was known as ‘Beano’. But how did it evolve? And how did it go from Beano to BingoLet’s find out what there was before Jackpotjoy…

In 1928, one year before the Wall Street Crash, it was boomtime for America’s businesses. As the country made its rapid expansion into a commercial behemoth, one of the beneficiaries was the burgeoning toy industry. It was in this healthy economic climate that Edwin S. Lowe clubbed together with two colleagues to launch his own business. With a thousand dollars as capital, and an entrepreneurial spirit, the future looked bright for Lowe and his compatriots.

The economic meltdown of the following year might have put paid to his dreams, as it did with so many unfortunate budding companies of the era, but for a chance event during a business trip to Jacksonville, Georgia. A few miles from his destination, Lowe came across a country carnival. With time to kill before his meeting, he parked his car and headed over to the carnival.

Beano Card

Times being what they were, all but one of the booths were closed. Ever on the lookout for new ideas, Lowe was intrigued by the attention garnered by a single stall in the depressed South. The crowd was gathered round a horseshoe table covered with numbered cards and beans. A caller pulled wooden discs from an old cigar box and shouted a number out to the gathering. Players eagerly checked cards to see if they had a matching number and, if so, placed a bean on the number. This strange routine continued until someone had filled a horizontal, diagonal or vertical line of numbers, at which point they shouted ‘Beano!’ – much to the disappointment of the rest of the crowd. The winner received a Kewpie doll as a prize. Most intriguingly for Lowe, the pitchman couldn’t get his patrons to leave – it was 3am before he finally chased them away and closed his booth for the night.

When Lowe returned to New York, he bought some dried beans, a numbered rubber stamp and some cardboard. Assuming the role of the Georgia pitchman, he tried the game out on a few friends. Just as in Jacksonville, they were immediately hooked. When one of his friends finally won she jumped up and gave the elated cry. Except she got it wrong. Instead of shouting ‘Beano’ she somehow stuttered her way to a brand new word. Bingo. And so the name around this time changed from Beano to Bingo!

Lowe knew he had his game, and a catchy name for it to boot. He quickly developed a marketable version which met with great success. Without a patent (he honourably failed to claim he had invented the game itself), Lowe’s Bingo was much copied, and a phenomenon had been unleashed on the US, which would eventually lead us all the way to the online bingo operated by the likes of Jackpotjoy.

By the mid-30s, there were some 10,000 games of Lowe’s Bingo being played each week. To keep up with the demand, Lowe employed a thousand people and 64 presses across nine floors of a New York building. It was just the beginning of what has become a billion-dollar industry, now largely played out online at sites like Jackpotjoy.

Bingo Card

Jackpotjoy and other sites provide all the fun of Lowe’s classic game, without having to go to a public venue to play. As the world becomes increasingly atomized, gamers of all stripes have cut themselves off from civic events such as the one Lowe came across all those years ago, and instead put their time and money into online ventures like Jackpotjoy. Ed Lowe would surely be astonished at what his little lotto game has become in the 21st Century.

So there you have a little history lesson of how things progressed from Beano to Bingo.

Image: HA! Designs – Artbyheather