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What Makes Bingo Nights Popular in the Deep South?

No matter where on the planet or in the United States one lives, it is a given that they have heard of bingo. It is a game of the masses, something played before a cozy fire as it snows outside, or behind the teacher’s back during an especially boring lecture. An adaptation is often used as a teaching tool at some institutions where foreign students learn the English language, where the numbers are replaced with various beginner words, phrases, pictures or even mathematical problems.

But to many in the Deep South, bingo isn’t just a factor of life, it is a part of it.

Bingo is a cultural phenomenon in these rolling lands of plantations and ranches. It is something that holds families and communities together. What surprises outsiders the most is how diligent the patrons of this game are, how they make sure they meet periodically—perhaps once or twice a week—in the same place, at the same time and engage in a competitive game of perpetual silence and intrigue, moving at the whims of those rolling balls, eager to yell “Bingo!’’

The wheel of time and society always keeps turning, and it is only to be expected that the tradition of competitive bingo and complimentary beer might be at risk of getting crushed. With the advent of technology and gaming, the younger generation finds itself alienated. But this does not have to be the case. There are a lot of new bingo sites online, which provide the same tension and companionship, but with the added spice of being on the net. If you fancy bingo online, start searching for the website that fits you the best. As society has made the transition from old and dry to the new and modern, so can our culture and home games. It is only a matter of exchanging the regular bingo balls for a random number generator.

For many senior citizens, regular veterans of the game who now despair to ever being able to attend the general gatherings, enjoying the choice of just getting online and becoming a part of a gaming room with only a few clicks is a dream come true. For them, the game is not just a way to pass the time, but rather an important social activity that keeps them in the connective loop and makes them feel a part of the world. Online bingo games provide starter bonuses and welcome gifts, which make them more fascinating than the regular deal.

Bingo as a game can originally be traced back to Italy in the 16th century, where it was played as a lottery called “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia.” From Italy, the game made the transition to France in the late 18th century, where its name was shortened to “Le Lotto.” In the U.S., it was played in country fairs, called “beano”—because, in classic country style, they played it with beans—until a New York toy salesman called Edwin S. Lowe renamed it “Bingo” due to a mispronunciation of the original word.

It is no surprise that in the Deep South, with a large percentage of its residents claiming strong ancestral links to Europe, the game has a sturdy hold. It offers a moment of connectivity and revelry in the Cotton States, a time to spend with family and friends hunched over boards with giant markers, just waiting on the edge of your seats for the moment the caller calls the number you need, and you can yell “Bingo!” before all the others. The entry to these affairs is free, and most anyone blessed with the patience and fortitude to face off against veteran old ladies and gentlemen can try their hand. People make an outing of these affairs, where free food is allowed, and takeouts can be ordered as the congregation watches the balls roll and prays fervently for their number.

Perhaps a more engaging aspect that pulls people to these places is the lure of prizes. Complementary rewards, sometimes as personal and appealing as a vintage sign or an expensive bottle of excellent wine, these gifts lift the games to something above basic community play and make them actually gung-ho and driven. Adding variations to the play allows for that extra edge too. Where the classic game asks for a pattern, some perky variations require the winner to have no pattern or matching numbers at all. Others award the jackpot to cover-alls for covering the entire card, or to that one lucky/unlucky patron who got only one matched number. The variations can differ, or be combined in exotic couplets and triplets, but the theory of the game remains the same: get what the game host asks for and enjoy while you are doing it.

In the South, once again, bingo is not just a game. And it is played like not-just-games are supposed to be played—like a sport.

Photo credits: Featured photo by Abbey Hendrickson and Bingo sign by David Goehring, both from Flickr Creative Commons. 

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