Millions of dollars are collected annually at carnivals, church functions and other events from Bingo proceeds. This seemingly simple game of called numbers attracts quite a following. Bingo has been around for centuries but was not always known as bingo.
Bingo owes its origins to Italy during the 1500s. The game is a form of lottery that the Italians called Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia, or The Italian National Lottery. Eventually the game caught on in France as well. In Le Lotto, cards had horizontal rows with five numbered and four blank squares in a random arrangement. The vertical rows contained numbers from 1 to 10 in the first row, 11 to 20 in the second row, and so on, up to 90. Each lotto card had a different arrangement of numbers. Chips numbered from 1 to 90 completed the playing equipment and were pulled out of a bag and called.
As individuals emigrated to North America or visited European countries, the lotto game spread. A variation on the lotto game was a hit at carnivals across the United States. Players were given numbered cards for a fee, and a "caller" would pull numbered disks out of a box or bag. If a player had the number called, he or she would place a bean on a card. When a row of numbers on the card was filled with beans, the player would shout "Beano"!
A toy company owner named Edwin Lowe came across a country carnival in Jacksonville, Georgia, where players were addicted to the Beano game. He observed the game and then went home to New York and crafted the game for his own personal play. Upon inviting friends over to try their luck at Beano, an excited player stood up and called "Bingo" instead of "Beano" when she won. Lowe knew the game -- with a name change -- would be a hit. He marketed the game and it caught on quickly, even attracting imitators. Lowe didn't patent his game. He simply asked imitators to pay him a dollar for use of the game concept and call their games "Bingo"as well.
Over time, Bingo became a staple at church fundraisers. However, there weren't enough numbered card variations in Bingo games to meet the needs of big crowds. Therefore, Lowe hired a Columbia University mathematician to come up with a greater amount of numbered cards. Carl Leffler was called on to make 6,000 new Bingo cards with nonrepeating number groups. The task grew increasingly difficult. After completing the task, Leffler reportedly went insane.
Today Bingo is still played all across the country. It remains one of the most effective ways for churches and other groups to raise funds. While the beans or chips have been replaced with Bingo markers and fancy calling systems, the original concept still remains close to the same as the Italian lotto game invented more than 500 years ago.
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