Jim Duffy comment: Hipsters are reviving bingo for a new generation

Eyes down for a full house! Yes, the words that get every bingo player excited. But, the game is changing in the 21st century.
The younger generation are adopting bingo - in hangouts with DJs and Prosecco, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.The younger generation are adopting bingo - in hangouts with DJs and Prosecco, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.
The younger generation are adopting bingo - in hangouts with DJs and Prosecco, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.

I recall my Aunt Jenny being an avid bingo player when I was a young lad. Aunt Jenny and tens of thousands of women like her in the UK regularly attended their local bingo halls. Her particular hunting ground was in Kilbirnie in Ayrshire and attracted patrons from all the local towns. Aunt Jenny was in her sixties, had a pension from her years of work at the mill and had a part-time job in a local newsagents to give her some “pin money”. Regular as clockwork on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, she would be strolling down the road to the bingo, where she would spent many happy hours. I remember she won big a few times, scooping £3,000 on the national game. This sum, 40 years ago, was a small fortune. It was all part of the allure to keep punters playing and coming out on wet, windy nights.

Alas, the bingo hall has been on the decline since then. The reasons for this are many. The smoking ban played a big part as bingo players liked to have wee drink and ostensibly chain smoke throughout the evening. Then there was the introduction of that disruptive thing called the internet. Why would Aunt Jenny want to leave her warm, toasty house where she could drink cheaply and smoke to her heart’s content, to venture out on dark winter nights, when she could play online? A recent study identified that one in five over 55s was one playing bingo online, with 300,000 making the switch in the past year alone. This accounted for a 14 per cent drop in bingo hall attendance in the UK. So, is this the long slow demise of bingo as we know it, in big, austere concrete and metal bingo halls located near strip malls in towns and cities across the land? Well, yes and no.

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Like all business models which learn to withstand the test of time and the challenge of the world wide web, bingo is making a comeback. Only, this time it is not for the likes of my Aunt Jenny. Bingo is going hipster, with the younger generation taking a real interest in playing it their way.

The internet certainly does give easy access to an online Bingo game. A quick Google search throws up multiple avenues to sign up to bingo with the usual £20 free bet. But, the internet for all its utilitarian offering often doesn’t give us that social feel. And that is one of the key attractions, I would argue, that the likes of my aunt really appreciated. So, while the internet may be closing in on some of the older bingo playing generation, it is not fulfilling the needs of the millennials. The young brigade are now adopting bingo their way, playing in cool hangouts like Dabbers.

No smoke filled rooms with purples rinses and Bacardi and cokes here. Venues like Dabbers offer high end drinks and great food, while its patrons play: bingo! It’s the game re-imagined for today’s younger generation. And they love it. Dabbers, which is chaired and partly financed by Picturehouse cinemas founder Lyn Goleby, is already considering additional sites in London and Manchester.

Sitting at long benches, players can make new friends while they eat yummy burgers and sip Prosecco as they dab their numbers on the bingo cards. The bingo caller is no longer unidimensional orating the usual “88 – two fat ladies”. Instead, there is a DJ-type feel with cool music and audience participation. The whole evening is not simply centred around marking a card, but providing a holistic experience to titillate all the senses. Bingo is indeed making a comeback, fighting back against age and tech.

The new bingo start-ups are gearing up for expansion. Dabbers founder Ed Wethered spent more than two years raising cash for his venture after he organised a string of successful Monday night charity bingo sessions. A clever way to test his model before hooking in investors to grow.

I just love the simplicity of it all and I am sure my Aunt Jenny would have approved.

- Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special