A few short years ago a group of hip, young twentysomethings rocking up to the local bingo hall for a night out would have been enough to raise some eyebrows. The game, which has been played in Britain for at least a century, has traditionally been the preserve of an older, less style-conscious type of player.
Many pundits even recently considered the game as good as dead, given that a third of the 600 bingo halls in the UK closed their doors for good between 2005 and 2014. However, that is all beginning to change, with new bingo halls and millennial-focused bingo nights popping up again throughout the country.
It seems that bingo is the hot new thing among the trendsetters and tastemakers, with sellout bingo events featuring DJs, pop-up food trucks, and Instagram-friendly decor proliferating in the UK.
Never one to miss out on a trend, our very own hipster magnet of a city has been one of the frontrunners of the bingo revival and is arguably one of the best cities in the country to experience the new type of bingo taking thrill seekers by storm. Here’s how bingo got to be so big in Manchester.
The Perfect Hipster Night Out
The hipster-fication of bingo is a phenomenon which has been meticulously documented in the press in recent years, as part of a predictable trend of journos dissecting everything that millennials do. While some outlets have been keen to dismiss the whole thing as a short-lived trend, the truth is that bingo has a lot which appeals to today’s younger generations.
For one thing, the age-old practice of hanging out in bars and going clubbing is well and truly on the way out for most millennials, who much prefer to go to social events where there is little pressure to drink and where they can source plenty of engaging content for their Instagram stories.
Some of the most popular bingo nights in the country originated in the hipster meccas of Camden, Peckham, and the Northern Quarter, where enterprising young businesspeople decided to take over empty industrial buildings and transform them into bingo venues.
Many of the largest nights tend to give away at least a portion of their revenue to a charitable cause, another factor which holds a strong appeal among the 18-30 crowd compared to the rest of the population.
Perhaps most importantly, people are drawn to bingo because it is kitschy and quaint, which we all know is a big point scorer in the world of hipsterism.
The Digital Revolution
Equally important are the ways in which new technologies have popularised bingo and made the game more accessible to a new generation of players. Rather than having to carpool it to a bingo hall on the outskirts of some retail park in Chorlton, people can now familiarise themselves with the game via the countless online bingo providers which operate on smartphones.
The UK online bingo market is now estimated to be worth something in the region of £4.5 billion a year, up from a mere £817 million as recently as 2009. Much of this growth is being driven by tech-savvy young people who just want something to play on their way to work.
Moreover, online bingo is also a way of teaching the uninitiated about the basics of the game. Novice players have a tendency to be confused about the bizarre number calling system; after all, how many people know that ‘Two Fat Ladies’ means 88, or that ‘Cameron’s Den’ means 10? Feeling comfortable with a game is key to enjoyment, which is why many millennials choose hit up a popular online bingo site to get the low-down and rock up to their next event fully prepared and ready to win. It’s an effective way to learn the rules without the pressure of being surrounded by your peers.
The Bongo Effect
It would be wrong to discuss the rise of bingo in Manchester without addressing the neon-splattered, pink unicorn and coco-popped elephant in the room. Bongo’s Bingo, which originated in a small pub in Liverpool a few years ago and began in April 2015, founded by Jonny Bongo and Joshua Burke, has gone on to become one the most popular events in the UK and has even branched out abroad to far-flung places such as Paris, Ibiza, Sydney and Dubai.
This is far from just your average bingo event. The whole thing is set up like a rave, featuring electronic dance music, free glow sticks, and some of the strangest cocktails around. The organisers also love to make fun of themselves and the game, though playing bingo is very much at the heart of the whole immersive experience.
As they’ve grown, however, they have begun to spring out for more relevant figures, including the pop icon Kelis, Basshunter, Vengaboys and B*Witched. Naturally, Bongo’s Bingo has seen its biggest success in Manchester. The Bongo team recently hosted their biggest ever event in the city, a three-day weekender at Manchester Central entitled‘Bongo’s Bingo XL’, which sold out almost immediately, with headline guests Blue. Indeed, Kelis is back playing two huge dates back at Bongo’s Big Top at Manchester Central on Fri 2nd and Saturday 3rd August.