All About Bingo

In various forms games like bingo have been around since the 1500s, thought to have evolved from a traditional lottery game in Italy before moving to France and across the rest of Europe.

As it continued to move around minor changes were continually made to the cards and numbering, some variants of which are still played around the world - though 75 ball and 90 ball bingo are the most played variants (75 is 'regular' in North America, 90 in the UK.)

Once seen mostly as a dwindling pastime for the elderly in smoke-filled parlors, the introduction of online bingo over the last couple of decades has caused a resurgence in the games popularity as a casual, easy to play and affordable way to gamble.

In 75 Ball Bingo:

Players may buy multiple cards, but each card is independent from one-another. Cards are made up of 25 squares in total, arranged in a 5 x 5 grid, with the middle square normally used as a 'free space' that can be used to complete lines that intersect with it.

In 75 ball bingo, each ball is both numbered and lettered with one of the letters from the word BINGO (B, I, N, G, or O.) This makes tracking the balls called easier, as the number will only appear underneath the column corresponding to that letter. For example, a B12 can only be found somewhere on the leftmost column under the letter 'B".

Winning combinations can be a variety of things, there are a lot more options than in 90 ball games due to the way the ticket is laid out. Any horizontal, vertical or diagonal line (from corner to corner) is most common, but four corners, a cross or x pattern, diamonds, every outside spot, full boards, and just about any other 'shape' can also be be called, pretty much anything that can be illustrated in a 5 x 5 row of squares has been at one time or another.

In 90 Ball Bingo:

Players buy a 'strip', each of which contains 6 individual tickets (areas) with 27 spaces and 15 numbers in each. These numbers are not repeated anywhere on the strip, meaning all numbers between 1 and 90 are present, just spread randomly across each of the tickets.

In 90 ball bingo, each ball is only numbered - there are no letters associated with each like the North American version. Tickets still have the numbers arranged in a similar fashion however, with the lowest numbers in the leftmost column, and the highest numbers in the rightmost column, for example 1-10 in the first, 11 to 20 in the second, and so on from left to right.

Winning combinations are one of four things as identified before the game begins (sometimes more than type one per game;) a single line (all 5 numbers are hit across a row,) two lines (all 5 numbers are hot across 2 rows) or a 'Full House' (all three lines on a ticket have all their numbers called.) Four corners may also be played, in which case the left and rightmost numbers on the top and bottom lines are hit. (Note that these may not be the actual 'corners' of the ticket, which may be blank.)

How To Play:

Whether playing online or off, before each game session begins players buy however many 'cards' or 'strips' as they would like. Some places may have a maximum number that you may purchase per game, and online bingo providers normally will have a limit to accommodate the virtual space available (you can't spread out 200 tickets in a browser window with much practicality.) These cards or strips are only good for the one game that follows.

When the game begins the 'caller' (in a brick and mortar scenario) will spin a cage with each of the 75 or 90 marked balls it it, then one ball will be removed (this is usually a mechanical feature, though those without the greatest equipment might simply pick one out at random without looking.) Online this is of normally done with the bingo software rather than a physical person/machine, though there are games streamed over video at certain places that merge the old with the new - using physical machines and a live caller/host in combination with virtual tickets and online players.

When a player has the ball number called, they check their card/strip, and mark it off if they have it (usually with a bingo 'dabber' when playing with physical cards, similar to a highlighter) or with a click when playing online. In 90 ball games, the player will always have the number on one of their tickets. Most online games also have the functionality of 'auto-marking' the cards, which makes the game a lot more passive, but does ensure you don't miss anything (especially when playing multiple cards/strips at once.)

After a few seconds, the caller (or program) will repeat the process of spinning the balls and pulling/calling one, and the players again will mark their cards. This process continues until one (or more) people have a 'Bingo' - which they'll loudly declare when playing in a live venue by shouting it out, or by other means (if not automatically) when playing online. When playing live someone will come and check the players card to make sure they actually have fulfilled the win condition, online the software already knows.

As covered above, a winning Bingo combination can vary in both 75 or 90 ball games, but the players will be told what they need to do fill in before each game starts and they buy their cards/strips. It is entirely possible (and common with enough players) than more than one player gets a 'Bingo' at the same time, in which case each winner will split the pre-determined prize.

Generally speaking, once someone has gotten a Bingo the game is over and everyone's cards/strips are done. Rarely, in some cases the game may have additional win conditions, i.e. the first player to get a line wins, but the game will continue until someone gets a full board (or something else) with a divided pot for the different win conditions.

Bingo Strategy

There really isn't much to say about strategy while playing, it's entirely a game of luck. With that said, if you're responsible for marking your own cards/tickets - be diligent about it, if you miss marking a number you may well lose out on what should have been a win so don't buy more than you can manage (doesn't apply to online games with auto-marking.)

Before buying into a game however (particularly online) there is some strategy at play in whether you should participate or not, depending on the prize offered and the number or participants.

At this point it's basic math, take the number of players and compare them to the prize being offered. If there's 200 players, a card costs $1 and the prize is $100 - the odds aren't very good regardless of how many you buy. If there's that same $100 prize but with 50 players, your odds get significantly better - if everyone bought the same number of tickets in both scenarios:

  • With 50 players, you would have a 1 in 50 chance of winning. At $1 a card, on average you would win $100 one out of 50 times in this better scenario doubling your money.
  • With 200 players, you would win $100 1 out of 200 times on average, losing half of your money doing so.

In either case, yes you could buy more cards to increase your odds - but that additional cost balances out your win expectations. The only advantage is finding games with prizes out of proportion to the number of participants.