Bingo in Ireland: The history and current state of the classic game

The ongoing Brexit process across the water is highlighting what many people in Ireland have known for some time – our country might not be as noisy as the United Kingdom, but Ireland is thriving economically.

That fact can be seen across all areas of the economy, with Ireland punching well above its weight in terms of trade and foreign investment. Ireland’s economic superiority over the United Kingdom is clear to see in almost every industry, and none more so than in the gambling sector.

In 2018 the gross gambling yield in Ireland stood at just over 5 billion euros – a third of the UK’s – but with a population 20 times smaller, that is a formidable figure. Bingo is one sub-industry of gambling that is thriving in Ireland and flagging in the UK.

So what is the current state of bingo in Ireland? How does it compare to the United Kingdom? We outline a brief history and current state of the classic game.

Bingo in Ireland – A brief History

The exciting ball game made its first concerted move into Irish consciousness in the 1960s when the Catholic Church adopted it nationwide as a means to raise money. Within a few years, the game had grown in popularity, shedding the shackles of the church and making its way into bingo halls up and down the country.

At the same time, over 14 million people in the United Kingdom were registered bingo players, but the game was consumed differently in Britain than in Ireland. Across the water, bingo was somewhat of a holiday activity.

Seaside resorts such as Blackpool, Brighton and Scarborough were awash with bingo halls and would be packed with punters in the summer months. In Ireland, the most significant concentration of bingo halls were to be found in the capital.

That crucial geographical difference safeguarded Irish bingo as British bingo suffered enormously from the advent of cheap foreign holidays. Vast numbers of Brits ditched Blackpool for Benidorm, leaving the previously busy bingo halls looking quite empty.

Over the coming years, British bingo continued to decrease in popularity. Playing numbers dropped to just above 1 million in the UK on the back of the smoking ban, and at the time it looked as though the public love of bingo was set to disappear.

In Ireland, however, the game continued to grow, bingo halls in the country were less reliant on seasonal visitors with the game forming a significant part of day-to-day life. The National Stadium in Dublin still opens its doors most weeknights to welcome up to a 1,000 eager guests at a time for big bingo nights.

Ireland’s unbreakable affinity with bingo put the country in an excellent position to take advantage of an upcoming technological shift…

Online Bingo

In the late 2000s, online bingo arrived on the scene, being heralded as the saviour of the ailing old game. British gambling entrepreneurs keen to emulate the success of online sports betting companies and casinos pinpointed bingo as the next major growth market in the sector.

Millions of pounds were invested in online bingo development as well as aggressive marketing campaigns that sought to bring in a new, younger generation of bingo players. At the time of writing, online bingo seems to be more popular than ever, with double-digit financial growth forecast in the coming years.

After seeing the game dip in popularity, playing numbers have risen to around 3.5 million in the UK. For a population of almost 70 million that may not seem like an impressive number, but in relation to bingo’s recent troubles, it is a figure that represents the huge success of online bingo.

Unlike the United Kingdom, Ireland did not have to reinvent bingo and target a new audience to bring in the customers. Thanks to the game’s continued popularity in the country it was an easy sell to encourage people to sign up to online bingo sites.

Last year Irish punters spent 2 billion euros with online gambling companies, which represents 11% of the overall figure spent in the European Union. Instead of reviving bingo’s popularity, online sites in Ireland have simply help to augment the already high participation levels in the country.

British gambling companies are regularly targeting Irish bingo lovers as they recognise the steadfast love of the game in this country, which appears absent in the UK.

The Future of Online Bingo in Ireland

Despite having one of the largest gross gambling yields in Europe, Ireland is a country almost entirely absent of gambling legislation. Every company offering betting facilities in the country is legally obliged to obtain a gambling licence.

However, failure to update the application process in past decades has created an environment where many suppliers simply cannot be bothered to apply for one. Such is the difficult, confusing and time-consuming nature of applying for a licence that many leading bookmakers, casino operators and bingo suppliers in Ireland are not regulated by the government.

Responsible gambling is not enforced by law and is a policy that can vary on a company-by-company basis in Ireland. There are many vocal critics of gambling in Ireland who claim that a lack of government legislation is leading to a ‘wild west scenario’.

At the time of writing, it appears that online bingo in Ireland will continue to grow, with perhaps more British companies moving into the country as a way to increase their profits and avoid tricky legislation.

The Gambling Control Bill

In 2013 the Gambling Control Bill was first debated in Dáil Éireann, but TD’s failed to reach a consensus on what they wanted the new bill to look like. The bill now appears to be an immovable object with TD’s in favour of heavy regulation and those in support of minimal regulation holding up the passing of the bill.

The Gambling Control Bill will either boost bingo in Ireland or make it difficult for it to thrive. Until TD’s get their fingers out of their proverbials and make a decision, the future of bingo along with other gambling activates in Ireland remains somewhat of an unknown.

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