Bingo is a deceptively simple game, and while the rules and mechanics are easy enough to learn, the complexity of mathematics ensures a unique experience every time you play.
Players purchase either single or multiple bingo cards to participate in the game. Standard bingo cards are organized into a 5x5 grid featuring 25 squares. These squares each contain a random number, while the center square is typically left open as a “Free Space,” which players fill automatically before the game begins.
The grid is topped by the letters B-I-N-G-O, and each letter corresponds to one of the 5-square columns. The “B” column contains a random assortment of numbers ranging from 1-15; the “I” column covers numbers 16-30; the “N” column numbers 31-45; the “G” column numbers 46-60; and the “O” column numbers 61-75.
To play bingo, players arrange their cards in front of them and wait for the caller to begin announcing numbers. These numbers are determined from a random draw, using methods ranging from cards concealed in a bag, to tumblers and automatic lottery ball machines.
After drawing a number, the caller announces it to the crowd and players use markers (anything from ink stamps to poker chips) to fill in any squares that match up. This continues until somebody completes any straight line (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) comprised of five filled-in squares. Once this has been accomplished the lucky player yells out “bingo!” to alert the caller, and after their card is confirmed as accurate, they are awarded a portion of the collective prize pool.
Bingo jackpots can range from simple $50 pots to million-dollar progressive jackpots, and every bingo hall employs different systems to award prize money. It’s always best to check with the hall to determine jackpot structures before purchasing your cards and beginning play.
In addition to single-line bingo, the game can also be played by waiting until a player fills their entire board to win, and this format is called “blackout” bingo. Many other popular variants also exist, including “postage stamp” bingo (requiring a 4x4 square in any corner of the grid to win), and “Roving L” bingo (requiring all “B” or “O” squares along with the top or bottom row to be covered).
Bingo players have several slang terms used during the game, especially to describe the crucial moment when somebody has filled in four of the five squares needed to complete a straight line. A player in this situation is said to be “ready,” “waiting,” “cased,” “set,” “down,” or they “have a chance.”
Someone who calls “bingo!” before they’ve actually completed a line or board has “jumped the gun,” while a “hard-way” bingo is one formed with five squares that do not include the “Free Space” in the center of the grid.
Bingo can be played on a variety of scales, from casual games between friends at the local meeting hall to massive games that fill casino floors. In the larger games, players routinely purchase dozens of individual bingo cards and employ customized ink markers known as “daubers” to fill their squares more efficiently.
A certain code of etiquette also operates during a game of bingo, and while these rules are unofficial, you’ll be better off keeping them in mind. Bingo is a game of concentration, so it’s never a good idea to be overly talkative or noisy during an active game, as this distraction will be frowned upon by regulars. Speaking of regulars, if you’re new to a particular bingo hall, you should be prepared to move on short notice if you happen to sit in a longtime player’s “lucky” seat.