Bingo is a gambling game that’s so common and so socially acceptable that most everyone learns to play in grade school. The purpose of this page is to take a look at how to play bingo for real money, and to determine whether or not the phrase “bingo strategy” is as oxymoronic as it sounds.
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How to Play Bingo
Bingo is similar to keno and the lottery. It’s a game of numbers, and if the right numbers get drawn, and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you can win money or prizes. One of the differences between bingo and games like keno or the lottery is that you don’t get to choose which numbers you’re betting on. When you play bingo, you’re given a bingo card which has numbers and letters pre-printed on it for you. Or if you are at a bingo site for US players, for example, you’ll get a “virtual” card with numbers and letters.
A bingo card is a 5X5 grid. Along the top are the letters B-I-N-G-O. (Clever, huh?) In the squares beneath each letter are numbers. The possible numbers in each square could be any number between 1 and 75, but each column is limited to a subset of those numbers.
For example, in column B, the five numbers will be a randomly determined set of five numbers from between 1 and 15. In column I, the five numbers will be a randomly determined set of five numbers from between 16 and 30. And so on.
The goal in most bingo games is to get five numbers in a row. A bingo caller draws bingo balls at random from a cage which mixes up the numbers, which are pre-printed on plastic balls. In online versions of the game, all of this is simulated using a random number generator.
When a player gets five numbers in a line, she calls out “bingo” and wins her prize. Sometimes this is cash, but other times it’s actual prizes. I won an iPod playing bingo once, and I still have it.
Bingo Games and Variations
Not all bingo games determine winners by getting five in a row though. That’s the most common and most traditional bingo game, but you can also play variations like blackout, where you have to get every number on your card before winning.
Online bingo variations can be even more complicated, but at the end of the day, bingo games are completely random and impossible to get an edge over. Like any gambling game, bingo pays out less than it brings in, which is how the house makes a profit.
Bingo Strategies and Systems
The best strategy for winning at bingo would seem to be to be able to play as many bingo cards simultaneously as possible. The more cards you’re playing, the more likely you are to win. But since you pay for each card, you’re not really gaining a mathematical edge over the house. You’re just increasing your chances of winning.
If you’re new to bingo, you should start by just playing a single bingo card. See how that goes. You might find that you’re a little bit slow, and one bingo card is just about all you can keep up with. If you find one card really easy to keep track of, move up to two cards, and see how that goes. And so on.
One warning though. If you start playing more bingo cards than you can realistically keep up with, you’re actually hurting your chances of winning, not helping them. As Clint Eastwood once pointed out, you’ve got to know your limitations.
United States Bingo
In the United States of America, most bingo games are sponsored by churches or charities. I’ve always thought it was interesting that a gambling game has become so socially acceptable that its primary purpose was to support charities and churches, but this has indeed become the case.
One might speculate that over time, games like poker might eventually become so socially acceptable that they’re sponsored by charities and/or churches too. Some of that might be happening already. I’ve heard of a number of VFW outposts which host poker games, and I used to participate in a poker game hosted by the Sons of Italy, which is a fraternal organization.
The funny thing about this perception of bingo as being harmless fun while poker is somehow sinful is especially interesting when you consider that there’s no element of skill in bingo, while poker is a game that rewards thought and strategy. What kind of value system does a double standard like that imply? Food for thought.