There was a time when the UK bingo industry could rely on attracting tourists into their fun-filled halls, however it seems that the glory days of the UK’s bingo halls are in decline as players find other ways to get their fix. Since 2005, there’s been a marked decline in the amount of revenue earned from the game, which has led to the closure of many halls, with the number of bingo halls in the UK plummeting from almost 600 in 2005 to just under 400 less than ten years later.
So why is playing ‘housey-housey’ in purpose built bingo halls on the decline? The main reasons often cited for the fall in players and consequent closures are; high taxes, the ban on smoking and, of course, the rise and increasing success of online gambling.
A punitive tax regime for the bingo industry
Our bingo halls have long been seen as a national institution. For decades now, ardent bingo players have made their way to the halls to meet up with friends and play one of our nation’s favourite games. Despite the fact that many players see it as a way to have a fun night out for relatively little expense with the chance to win big, (as bingo halls all around the country link up to dish out the big prizes), rises in taxes have seen the industry declining year after year.
For several years now, the people running the bingo industry have warned that the game is in a decline and that it will continue to be so, due to the ‘unfair bingo tax’ imposed on them by the government. Many have complained that despite the fact that bingo is one of the ‘softest’ forms of gambling, it has not only been subjected to one of the most punitive tax regimes, but the industry is also unable to recover any VAT on capital investment. As a result of this the number of bingo clubs has dropped dramatically in the last decade and while approximately 12,500 people still work in the industry today, the amount of bingo workers has been cut by one third in the last ten years.
Was the smoking ban to blame?
However, there’s more at play here than just the tax situation; the bingo players themselves seem to be falling out of love with the game. In 2005 there were over 80 million visits to UK bingo halls compared to around 43 million today - an extreme reduction in footfall. This decline was no doubt influenced by the smoking ban which was imposed in 2007. Since then the industry has rallied a little by moving the focus to attracting younger players into the halls, however some of the changes employed have not impressed the game’s diehard fans. Traditional ‘eyes down, look-in’ bingo clubs were upgraded to create a more ‘pub themed’ environment in the hope of initiating a younger crowd into the game, however it took away the traditional atmosphere of the bingo hall to the chagrin of some of the long standing players.
The rise and rise of the online game
Despite the attempt to bring bingo halls up to date, the recession has seen a further decline in visits to bingo halls, perhaps as people give up this treat to save money. However, the rise of online bingo sites is also believed to be having a major impact on the game. In fact, online bingo attracts players who would never previously have thought about going to a bingo hall to play bingo.
Since 2004 the industry has seen a rapid growth in the number of online bingo sites, from less than 20 to an estimated 350 sites being operated in the UK today by a range of operators from bingo hall owners such as Mecca and Gala to independent sites such as Lucky Cow Bingo. Many of these bingo sites are aimed specifically at women, the demographic most likely to play bingo both in bingo halls and online. Not only can players join in a game from the comfort of their own home, but they can get involved in the social aspects of bingo too by joining purpose made chatrooms, where they can ‘meet’ other players and have a chat while they play.