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The term bingo originated from a game called “beano”. Beano was invented in the United States of America. It was a county fair game consisting of numbered discs pulled out of a cigar box by the “dealer”.

The reason it was called “beano” is because the players would mark numbers off of their cards with beans. Like Bingo, “Beano!” was yelled when someone had crossed off the correct patterns. Although Beano was originated in the United States, the game of bingo’s routes can be traced back as far as the 1500’s to an Italian game called “Lo Giuoco Lotto Italia”. The game then spread to other places in Europe like France and Germany.

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Bingo in the States

The first instance of “beano” in North America was in 1929 at a carnival in Atlanta, Georgia. The reason it turned from “beano” to bingo is actually quite funny. A toy salesman named Edwin Lowe overheard a beano player scream “Bingo!” accidentally. He thought that bingo had a better ring to it and would be better for marketing purposes. Lowe had been working on the game to mass produce it and had friends over at his apartment to test it out, which is when “Bingo” slipped.

“I cannot describe the strange sense of elation which that girl’s cry brought to me,” Lowe said. “All I could think of was that I was going to come out with this game, and it was going to be called Bingo!”

Lowe sold his first product 12 cards for a $1, and 24 cards for $2 but there were always too many winners in each game! Lowe also decided he needed to increase the number of squares on the bingo card to make it take off commercially. He searched for a partner and met a math proffessor named Carl Leffler.

Leffler taught at the University of Columbia and agreed to help Lowe with his venture. Leffler toiled over the mathematical possibilites and came up with a total of 6000 different bingo cards for production. The rumor has it, after he completed this task Leffler went completely insane. Soon after the game was ready to be mass produced, a Catholic priest asked Lowe if he could use the game in churches to raise funds.

Lowe’s agreed and soon more and more churches were playing his free game. Since so many people were playing bingo at church, it grew in popularity very quickly in the mainstream too.

By 1934, there were roughly 10,000 bingo games played weekly by Americans.

Today in 2008, more than $90 million are spent on bingo in just North America every single week.