How to Play Bingo

By James Holloway
A close-up of a bingo play card.

Whether in the hubbub of a crowded bingo hall or the intimacy of someone's home, bingo is a fast-paced, high-spirited game of chance. Traditionally played for money, bingo can also be played for points or other kinds of prizes. Although any number of people can play bingo, the game is best with a large group of players.

Equipment Needed

Bingo is an equipment-intensive game. It requires a way to generate random numbers; traditionally, this is a rotating lottery drum full of numbered balls. Each player also needs a bingo card. These cards show five rows of five squares, each containing a random number; the central square is blank. In a traditional bingo hall, each player also receives a special marker to fill in or "daub" squares. In a home game, players simply use pens or pencils.

Getting Started

One player takes on the roll of the caller, while every other player takes a bingo card. Each player can fill in the free central square. Before play, the caller determines the winning pattern for the game. Winning patterns vary from straight vertical or diagonal lines to intricate shapes; other patterns include all four corners of the board or even covering every square on the board. The caller uses the random number generator to select a number, then calls it out.

Filling Squares and Winning

As the caller calls out each number, players who have that number on their sheets mark it off. The caller then calls out the next number, repeating the process until one player has filled up the winning pattern on her card. This player must signal victory by jumping up and shouting "Bingo!" as loudly as possible. An enthusiastic shout is the sign of the truly dedicated bingo lover.

Bingo Variants

The standard American version of bingo is played with 75 balls and a 25-square card. In Europe, the rules are slightly different: the drum holds 90 balls and there are only 15 numbers on a ticket with 27 spaces. Scoring also works slightly differently: instead of winning by completing patterns, players win by completing rows across the card. Other variants of bingo include electronic versions that randomly generate winning patterns and keep track of scoring for the players.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.