Just about everyone is hard of bingo and many people have played the game at one time or another. The classic variation of this game involves players marking spots on one or more cards as balls are drawn with numbers on them, numbered from 1 to 75.
Each ball has a corresponding letter attached to it, with all five letters of bingo being represented, with 15 numbers assigned to each letter. So if B7 was drawn, the caller would announce it and players would look under the B column on their cards to see if they had it, and then they would mark it off if so.
Players win by completing various things such as lines, all four corners, an X pattern, the entire card, etc. Games may have one or several objectives. The first person to complete the task yells “bingo,” their card is verified, and a prize awarded.
So bingo is a very simple game to play and this has led to its immense popularity over the years. In the United States, the game is said to have started back in the early 1920’s by Hugh Ward who took the game around to carnivals, and later published an official rule book and also made money selling packages of bingo cards.
The game was originally called “beano,” from the fact that beans were used back then to mark the cards, and it’s said that one player who hit “beano” yelled out “bingo” instead, and the name ended up catching on, and before too long the name of the game had changed to bingo.
Bingo has been widely played ever since, and is a particular favorite of charitable organizations, especially churches, and bingo is certainly viewed as apart from normal gambling, even though it is certainly gambling in the strict sense.
People would then pay a fee per card to play, and part of the proceeds would be used for prizes, often cash prizes, and the rest would be kept by the organization to support their charity.
As a general rule, bingo is only permitted to be offered by churches and charities, perhaps with the thinking that since supporting charities are involved, the money spent at these events could be viewed more as contributions rather than people visiting a gambling hall.
Commercial Land Based Bingo
Offering the game of bingo to players at a profit is very frowned upon though, and only one state allows for it, Nevada, which is not surprising given that they have the most liberal gambling laws in the country.
Even in Nevada, only licensed casinos can offer bingo games, and bingo certainly is a protected form of gambling, to the extent that in other states that have casino gambling, you can play slots, blackjack, craps, and other popular casino games, the hardest core ones so to speak, but bingo is off limits.
A lot of Native American tribes offer bingo though, and this is how many of them got their start in the gambling business. The bingo on tribal land tends to be of the higher stake variety, with some offering huge jackpots, to look to get people to travel to their big bingo halls.
States wishing to prevent these high stakes bingo games offered by Indian tribes on their reservations played a big role in the cases that ended up being decided in favor of the Indians being allowed to continue offering gambling, which led to all the Indian casinos we see around the country today.
Many have not forgotten their roots and still have a bingo hall to go along with their other assortment of things to gamble on, and bingo remains quite popular at these establishments.
Bingo Goes Online
The coming of the internet has had a dramatic effect on the world of gambling, where now you can gamble from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, at any time you wish. While casino, sports betting, and poker get all the attention, bingo has really benefited from all of this access as well.
While the revenue from bingo doesn’t even approach that of other forms of online gambling, it’s estimated that people spend over a billion dollars a year playing it online, and that’s no small change.
Aside from the convenience of not having to travel somewhere to play, online bingo offers several advantages over the brick and mortar bingo halls. The biggest by far is access, where a bingo player now can sit in on a game of bingo at any time of the day or night, and play endless amounts of it to their heart’s content.
If you wanted to, you could now play bingo during every waking moment of your life, it’s that easy to access. The fact that online bingo sites have access to all regions of the world means that even in the off peak hours where you live, the middle of the night even, you can find all the bingo action you can handle.
Another big benefit of the online version is that it’s so cheap to run games, all they take is some room on a computer server, as opposed to the much greater expense of running a physical bingo game. This means that the games can be offered for as cheaply as the bingo site wants, and if you only want to spend a nickel a card for instance, you will find plenty of those as well as ones that cost more to buy into.
The much lower expenses of online bingo sites also mean that more of your buy ins go to prizes than would at a traditional bingo hall. The fierce competition among online bingo sites also means that they will be fighting hard among each other to gain and keep your business and this means not only better games but better bonuses for players to entice them.
There are other advantages as well to online bingo, for instance you don’t have to mark your cards or even pay attention if you don’t want to, when you hit bingo the site will know already since it’s all done electronically. This also allows players to play many more cards than they would be able to in a land based bingo setting.
The Legality of Online Bingo in the U.S.
Online bingo does fall under the realm of online gambling for the most part, although this does depend on the way that the laws read in a particular state, and gambling laws certainly vary by state.
Federal law does have the potential to apply to online bingo, but there are no federal laws that prohibit online gambling at all. The Federal Wire Act of 1961 does prohibit online sports betting businesses from accepting bets from Americans that cross state lines, but there’s nothing about bingo in the law, and it wouldn’t really matter much anyway.
For several years, the government took the position that the Wire Act applied to all forms of online gambling, in spite of its wording being very clear that it just addressed sports betting, but this didn’t slow down online bingo being offered to Americans. They have now admitted that this law does indeed only apply to sports betting. It never did apply to players though, and that’s actually completely under the jurisdiction of the state where the player resides.
So it depends on where you live as far as whether playing online bingo is legal or not, and in a lot of states this law isn’t particularly clear when it comes to online gambling, but most states do prohibit gambling generally unless there is an exemption specifically set out, for instance the state lottery or other forms of regulated or permitted gambling.
Since bingo is certainly a game of chance, and purely so, and it is a contingent event, and purchasing bingo cards would consist of staking something of value upon the outcome of an event, the laws of most states would prohibit it, although these laws do differ.
If a state prohibits all gambling which is not expressly permitted, then it doesn’t matter whether or not it specifically prohibits online gambling, as online gambling is a form of gambling provided the bets are made from within the state. Whether or not bets on the internet occur where the bettor resides or not is a matter of at least some dispute, but the courts have generally taken the position that they do, thus far anyway, not that there are many cases like this that have come up, and none to do with bingo.
Online bingo sites that cater to U.S. residents are all based in other countries, where gambling is legal, and therefore outside the reach of U.S. authorities, whose laws simply don’t apply to them. Some online bingo sites do not accept Americans, out of an abundance of caution, but many do and it’s no trouble at all finding good ones to play bingo at.
While offshore online gambling operators are beyond the reach of U.S. law, authorities on a few occasions have seized funds within the United States controlled by these offshore gambling sites, but they have eased up on this lately, and the focus is clearly on the big money online gambling, the casino action, the sports betting, the online poker, and the online bingo market is far too inconsequential in comparison to merit any of this sort of attention.
This would also be the case if American authorities somehow could go after players gambling online, as online bingo players would not even make it on their radar. The truth is though that in spite of what laws a state may have against online gambling, there’s just no way to stop it, no good way to catch anyone doing it, regardless of the game played.
So Americans are free to play online bingo to their heart’s content with nothing stopping them really, as long as online bingo sites accept them, and there are many which continue to welcome U.S. players with open arms, and the future of this industry looks bright.