Why was Bingo Called Beano?

innerbeano27102015The creation of modern bingo can be traced back to 1530, when Italy first organized Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, the Italian National Lottery. By 1778, the quintessential game of chance known as Le Lotto has made its way into France. The French version of Italy’s lottery featured cards divided into three horizontal and nine vertical rows. Players were dealt a single card, then the caller would draw numbered tokens and read them aloud. The players would mark off the called numbers that appeared on their cards, and the first to cover a horizontal row was the winner. Sound familiar?

In the 1800s Lotto was transformed into an educational game. Variations such as ‘Spelling Lotto’, ‘Animal Lotto’ and ‘Historical Lotto’ were used in schools to teach children their lessons. Flash-forward to December 1929, and Lotto had made its way to America. A New York toy salesman named Edwin Lowe was passing through Jacksonville, Georgia, when bingo made its first recorded appearance in the New World.

At a carnival in Jacksonville, a pitchman who had recently traveled to Germany was unveiling a new and exciting form of entertainment. The action was centered on a horseshoe-shaped table covered with numbered cards and beans. The pitchman was standing in front of a crowd of people, pulling small numbered wooden disks from an old cigar box and reading the results aloud. Players excitedly searched their cards for the called numbers. If the card featured the called number, the player would mark that square with a bean. Eventually, someone filled a line of numbers on their card with these beans, and a winner was crowned. “Beano!” they would shout.

Beano was an instant hit on the carnival circuit. According to Lowe’s report, the pitchman wasn’t able to close up the game until 3:00 a.m., when he effectively chased the remaining players out of the carnival booth. From this point forward, beano was an unstoppable force.

After returning to New York, Lowe purchased some dried beans, a numbering stamp and some cardboard in an attempt to replicate the pitchman’s success. After a short time, his friends were playing beano in his apartment with Lowe serving as the caller. During one session, an excited player jumped to her feet after winning the game and attempted to proclaim victory through the typical Beano announcement. However, she was tongue-tied, and she stuttered ‘bingo’ instead.

For one reason or another, Lowe preferred bingo as a name for the game, which he promptly set about releasing to the public. The earliest Lowe Bingo game came in two variations – a 12-card set for one dollar and a 24-card set for two dollars. The game was an immediate success, putting Lowe’s young company on its feet.

The game we know as bingo is the result of centuries of fine-tuning and dedicated play. Today’s rules are universally-accepted by players looking to put their luck to the test. While you can use just about anything to mark squares, one storied carnival pitchman chose beans. As a result, beano will always be closely tied to modern bingo.