Before Bingo History – early lottery type games

Modern bingo has a history that stretches back further than may be realised. It has its origins in lottery type games played hundreds of years ago (and perhaps earlier). Lotteries are still played of course and it is interesting to see how bingo developed from these games, splitting off to have its own distinct identity and become recognizable as modern bingo. This article looks into the lottery games that existed before bingo, and tracks how they ended up becoming the modern game of bingo. It is the first in a small series of articles that goes on to track the development of the different forms of bingo that are now played in different parts of the world. Read more about the history of lottery type games before the advent of modern bingo below.
Early lotteries and raffles
Archaeological evidence has been found for lotto type games in ancient Egypt – so it is highly likely that lotteries have been played from prehistorical times. However, in terms of recorded history, one of the earliest games we have details of was the Italian (state run) game of Lo Giuoco del Lotto. This is first recorded in the 1530s as La Lotto de Firenze which was played in the city of Florence (Italy). Enough information is known about the original lotto game to make it recognizable as the modern Lo Giuoco del Lotto which is still played in Florence with draws held three times a week. The original lotto games spread to other cities in Italy to raise funds for public projects, and when the Italy consolidated its republics in the 1500s to form one country, the various lotteries were combined to form the national lottery Lo Giuoco del Lotto.
There is also historical evidence of raffles being played from early times too, generally being used to dispose of goods. There is an obvious relationship between raffles and lotteries in that people have tickets with a number (raffled) or numbers (bingo) on. Numbers are drawn or generated at random and the prize is won when the called number(s) matches the ticket. So the main difference being that with a lottery the player has several numbers that need to be matched to win, whereas with a raffle there is only one number that needs to match.
Lotteries in early England
In England there is historical evidence of lotteries being played in Elizabethan times (late 16th century), and gambling of all kinds was played by all including the rich as well as the poor. By the 18th century games resembling bingo were starting to appear in England. State lotteries were organized throughout the 18th and 19th centuries but these were very expensive, leading to a number of illegal small lotteries for the less well off being run for pennies. Interestingly these games were mostly played by working women, so the parallel with bingo is obvious where it has been associated mainly with women.
Lotteries in early America
In America state and private lotteries were used to finance various ventures initially by the British in colonial America and later by the USA after independence. However various financial scandals and mismanagement of the lotteries had brought them into disrepute by the end of the 19th century and most states banned them. They came back in modern times (from the 1960s onwards) but the development of the modern 75 ball game of bingo in the US (see the history of 75 ball bingo ) was somewhat separate from the history of lotteries in that country. Elsewhere in the world bingo seemed to develop from lotto leading to the different forms of the game in other places – see the history of 90 ball bingo.
Lotteries spread across Europe
Coming back to pre-bingo lotteries in Europe in the following centuries the Lotto game was copied and it spread and changed – in 18th century France it acquired the more familiar way of playing whereby players had cards recording their numbers and the random drawn numbers were called out by a caller – this game being called ‘Le Lotto’ and being well established by the late 1770s.
By the late 19th Century (i.e. about 1880) the game had reached Germany and and also began to reach and influence the various lottery type games played in England as the British Navy travelled and brought back lotto type games. The game was starting to develop and become more standardised into the a form which is recognizable as the modern game of 90 ball bingo.