Introduction to Playing Bingo

The following is a guide to playing bingo starting from the very basics. If you have never played bingo before then hopefully this article will help get you started! It covers the general principles of bingo, without going into details of the specifics of the different kinds of bingo. For further reading in more detail on 90 ball bingo, 75 ball bingo and 80 ball bingo click the links here or see the list of links to other articles on this site at the bottom of this article.
Bingo is played similarly to lottery games in that you have a card with a selection of numbers on it, and those have to be matched with another selection of random numbers. In bingo the numbers are usually assigned at random, whereas in lotteries you often have the choice of choosing them, but the basic mechanics of the game are similar. In bingo the numbers to be matched to your card are called out by a caller (in a bingo club or hall) or generated by the website in the case of online bingo.
What also makes bingo different from lotteries is that you are playing together with other people, and the numbers are called out until someone wins. So in a way you are in a sort of race to ‘get there’ first. How you win depends on the type of game, and is determined by either filling in a pattern of ‘hit’ numbers on the card as in 75 ball bingo or a single line, or number of lines as in 90 ball bingo. Sometimes the game stops when a pattern is hit but with 90 ball bingo, 80 ball bingo and sometimes 75 ball bingo it goes on until someone gets all the squares on their card filled in – this is called a ‘coverall’ in 75 ball bingo, and a full house in 90 ball bingo.

The mechanics of the game

In a brick and mortar bingo hall the card is a physical piece of card or thick paper printed with the numbers in the appropriate pattern. See the how-to-play pages for the specific game for an explanation of the patterns for the various types of bingo – links at the bottom of this article. With live bingo you usually mark the card with a special pen, this is called ‘daubing’ and the special pen is called a ‘dauber’ or bingo marker. It makes big blobs of colour that mark out which of your numbers have been called, but still allows the number underneath to be clearly seen. This is important as the numbers have to be seen if you claim a prize, as they have to be checked against the called numbers to makes sure it is a legitimate ‘bingo’.
Sometimes a plastic sheet with shutters on it is used in fairground type games. The ‘card’ is either a plastic transparent or white sheet that is placed into the board where the bingo player is sitting, and they can lower shutters over the board as the numbers are called out.
Online games have graphics that show your bingo cards with the numbers, and the numbers on the ‘virtual balls’ are shown graphically as well. There is often a voice calling them out too if you have the sound option on (most sites have this) – see playing bingo online for more details of how the online game is played. For instance there is nearly always an ‘auto-daub’ option which means the computer keeps track of the balls that have come out, and marks your card for you. On some sites (check the details for the site you play at) the manual daub is just for appearances, the game will still award the bingo (prize) even if you miss daubing.
For many years in brick and mortar bingo clubs ball machines were used, where the bingo balls were mixed up in a chamber and would randomly pop out. The bingo caller would then call them out as this happened. These days modern technology means that most bingo halls use electronic random number generators and the game progresses faster, with the ball numbers being displayed electronically on a big screen so the room can see them. Online bingo rooms use random number generators as well obviously! See the further reading section below for a link to information on random number generators if you are interesting in the technical detail.
Sometimes there is an extra benefit in getting to the ‘bingo’ early – i.e. filling in the pattern or getting a full house before a certain minimum number of balls have come out (i.e. numbers have been called). This is a feature in a lot of online bingo rooms, and is a common method for winning the jackpot. For more information see the section on progressive jackpots. It happens very rarely but can result in a big win!

Bingo is fun!

The excitement and enjoyment in playing bingo is with the slow tension of seeing the numbers filled in on your card as each game progresses. Will you get there first? How many more numbers do you need to hit? Are your friends at the table close too? With live bingo you have to call out (usually the cry ‘bingo!’ of course!) when you hit your pattern or line, or full house – so you have to pay attention too. Online there is almost always a system to take care of that automatically for you so you can just enjoy the game and the chatter at the tables, or in the chat box for the site online. Online too there are often side games (e.g. slots, casino games, scratch cards and so on) that you can play in between rounds of bingo – and of course the chat room for the whole site is still there so you can keep an eye on that at the same time.
The more cards you hold during any one game the more chance of winning you have. However, you have to pay the same for each card so the overall odds (in terms of money ratio) remain the same. Also if playing live in a bingo hall you will have to pay more attention the more cards you hold, to make sure you don’t miss any called numbers (see above, you have to claim the ‘bingo’ when you hit it or you are out of luck!). With online automatic systems (auto-daub) you can play a lot more cards at once, and usually the starting cost of a smaller game is lower too (pennies per card on the cheaper games) so that can spice up the games a bit, and even on the cheaper cards the win amount isn’t insignificant. Check the details for the site you play at for card prices and payout amounts.
For more details on the patterns, and how to play the different types of bingo game see the following articles on this site:
Further articles on playing bingo
How to play 75 ball bingo
How to play 90 ball bingo
How to play 80 ball bingo
Playing bingo online
Progressive jackpots in bingo
Bingo jackpots and pre-buy cards
Further reading
Wikipedia article on random number generators