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Bingo’s Brave New World

Traditional bingo, once the preserve of working class women, has been in decline for many years. The heady days of the 1960s, when an estimated 14 million people marked their numbers off each week, are a thing of the past.

There are numerous reasons for dwindling attendances. The introduction of the National Lottery, the UK smoking ban, higher taxation and the advent of smart technologies have all taken their toll.

However, bingo is enjoying something of a renaissance as efforts to repackage the game for a younger audience are proving extremely successful. Bongo’s Bingo is one of the most notable recent examples.

Set up by friends Jonny Bongo and Joshua Burke, Bongo Bingo combines elements of dance, rave and bingo. It also features its own gleefully crass interpretation of bingo calling that’s rife with sexual innuendo. Unsurprisingly, the event has gone down a storm with a string of sell-out events held throughout the UK and Europe.

Young and Keen

Then there’s Rebel Bingo, which follows a similarly risqué format to Bongo Bingo. As with its slightly more illustrious competitor, it’s pretty clear that ‘oldies R not allowed’. Indeed, its profanity-laden website labels the traditional ‘bingo community’ as ‘oppressors’, which we just loved. Is it possible to be both victim and rebel one wonders?

Teasing aside, Rebel Bingo is also hugely popular, with events already held in New York, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Las Vegas.

But the approach taken by Rebel Bingo and Bongo Bingo clearly isn’t for everyone. Miles Baron, CEO of the Bingo Association takes issue with the ‘vulgar’ and ‘offensive’ gags which dominate many of these events. Speaking to the Telegraph, he remarked:

“In some of the newer bingo contexts out there at the moment…some of the innuendos are very offensive. If you’re a traditional bingo customer in a bingo club and somebody calls 69 and says 6 and 9, sixty-nine, you mark off 69. But if you’re in one of these more risqué…environments the innuendos on 6 and 9, sixty-nine, probably wouldn’t be appropriate. What they’re doing is absolutely brilliant because it’s changing perceptions and it’s trying to bring bingo into the future. Nevertheless, some of the terminology, the jokes, innuendo is downright vulgar.”

While events such as Bongo’s Bingo aren’t exactly reminiscent of the last days of Rome, bingo bosses clearly have a dilemma on their hands: what type of bingo player do they target?

Bingo for Hipsters

Some establishments have decided that the ‘yoof’ market is the way to go. This is rather tragically illustrated by Dabbers Bingo’s attempts to get ‘down with the kids’ and its use of millennial-friendly bingo calls such as ’14: Insta-Hipster scene’, ’48: Not another Brexit Debate’ and ’56: Scrolling Through the Ex’s Pics’ – phrases that don’t exactly roll off the tongue. The famed ‘two fat ladies’ call has even been replaced with ‘Two Body Positive Ladies’ (yes really).

Dabbers Social Bingo opened its doors in late 2018 and is located close to the hipster bars and clubs of Shoreditch. In addition to bingo, it plays host to music and comedians. It also serves food. However, if you fancy a burger or even a bag of chips you’ll need to take your custom elsewhere – because the Dabbers’ menu includes dishes such as salted edamame, spinach falafels and prawn skewers.

Other companies try to target both young and older bingo players – a tricky balancing act if ever there was one. Barry Lyon, Head of Events at Mecca Bingo recently took steps to reassure its existing user base while pledging to attract younger people. Responding to a story in the Telegraph he said:

“We are adapting forms of the much loved game of bingo to appeal to everyone who wants to play the game and meet those changing needs. Our existing audience is still as important as ever and we consciously segment these new concepts by time and days so as not to alienate our existing customer base, but we have to innovate and change to ensure bingo stays relevant in 2019 and beyond.”

Despite his abject failure to include the word ‘inclusivity’, the message is clear for dyed-in-the-wool bingo players. Move with the times, or find something else to do on a Friday night.


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