Britain and America may be “two countries divided by a common language,” but there are other ways of judging the differences between them. One such method is to examine the games common to both countries and ask why one form has become a cherished part of the cultural landscape, while the other barely seems to have taken hold.
Consider bingo, for example. While the UK’s 90-ball game is the quick-fire, high-octane version, players in America prefer the slow-burning 75-ball option that offers many different kinds of pre- determined winning patterns. The interesting question is, why? The answer may lie in which flavour of bingo became established in the game’s formative years.
The origins of the game
In Britain, illegal lotteries and insurances had been a feature of working –class life for several centuries before the advent of modern bingo. From the early 18th Century there was also an official state sanctioned lottery that offered tickets at ten guineas a piece.
By the nineteenth century, Britain’s global reach meant that Britons were regularly coming into contact with people playing recognisable versions of the 90 ball game we know today. For example, sailors in the British Navy’s Maltese garrison appear to have picked a very similar game up from the local people. By the beginning of the twentieth century, a form of what would subsequently be called bingo had become established in the military. It would go on to experience huge popular growth in the early to mid twentieth century, firmly establishing itself as a key British pastime.
The structure of 90 ball bingo
So what exactly are the differences between the two types of bingo?
The 90 ball configuration has six tickets on a strip. The tickets have three rows with each row featuring five numbers, making fifteen numbers to a ticket. Players are not disadvantaged by this system, as no numbers are repeated on any single ticket, meaning that they only need to look for the number that’s been called once.
Most 90 ball bingo games are played in three sections, the first being for a line going across the ticket. Once that line has been called, players can either move on to a second line or they can skip it and go straight to the full house. The caller will advise players before the game starts what play they are going for.
Experienced players will mark an entire set of six tickets in one sitting, which means that they will have to cross out every number called. Not surprisingly, this makes for a fast and furious game which taxes the concentration of the player.
The United States 75 ball game
Superficially at least, the 75-ball game as played in the United States seems like a more complicated affair. Players are presented with a card per game. Each card has five columns split into twenty five squares with twenty four numbers. The middle square is called a “free space” and can be marked off straight away.
Unlike its British cousin, the 75-ball version of the game is not played in strips. Moreover, each card is independent in its own right, so players know that the number called could be on more than one card. As players could be marking the game on multiple cards, the caller has to give out the numbers at a much slower pace than in a 90-ball game.
Basic 75 Ball Card The way the numbers are called is also different. Along the top of the card the letters B I N G O correspond with the numbers below. When the caller shouts out the number (the number will appear on screen in an online game) on the ball they will say B3, I27, N43, G53, O75. This helps when multiple cards are in play, as players get a little extra time when they are searching for their numbers.
The really interesting feature of the game lies in the number of winning patterns that players can play for. Some of them can be quite complex and the house may even set them so they appear on the card as recognisable shapes, such as animals or letters. Players also play for several prizes during each game and – depending on the rules – they may also be able to call a win if they have all four corners or a vertical line.
75 Ball & 95 Ball Bingo – Differences at a glance
So factors such as history, culture and gameplay choices have played their part in ensuring the separate development of both forms, but what of the role of business? Well, online bingo is a major concern in both countries, with virtual bingo houses thriving because of their ability to instantaneously deliver the kind of product their players want.
Figures released by the British Gambling Industry tend to support this idea. The industry enjoyed a gross yield of over £6.8bn from April 2013 to March 2014. Most significantly, the largest growth was in the remote gambling sector (this sector includes bingo), which saw a 22% increase.
The worldwide trends are even more interesting. 85% of the income from the online bingo industry now comes from players in the States. As online gambling hasn’t been allowed in every state in America, these figures are amazing, and show that bingo is still a popular pastime, even if some traditional methods of playing the game do not have the mass appeal they once enjoyed.
Given the evidence above, it seems reasonable to argue that people favour 90-ball or 75-ball based on the cultural background in which they move and the local historical precedent. This idea is reinforced by bingo halls and online sites that have a vested interest in giving their patrons more of what they want. That said, it’s also abundantly clear that neither game is “better” than the other – they both have interesting nuances that make bingo and free bingo an exciting world to experience.