What’s the problem
Quite recently, I was lucky enough to gain a free ticket to go and play Bingo at my local Gala Bingo establishment. I received it because one of my closest friends is an employee of Gala and they are entitled to two games of Bingo per month and receive a free meal for introducing new customers.
My memories of playing Bingo go back to school fetes and Scouts evenings where the entry price went to Charity and the prizes were sweets and chocolates. But this experience was completely different.
Upon entering the lobby, we were faced by five slot machines, the ones you would find in a run-down pub with a minimum spend of 10p. We then proceded to the sign-up at the reception desk, handed over our IDs and was given a leaflet full of joiner offers and our 12-page game booklet. We were charged 50p for a dabber pen, which as we got in for free was not something to complain about.
After this, we went into through the door into the gambling hall. This area is split into two sections. One is the room of seats, tables and a bar where the customers play bingo, a huge screen with the called numbers on it and a caller in the corner who is quite clearly very bored with his job. The other room was a bombardment of lights and sounds, absolutely filled with customers glued to the screens of devices that have dominated gambling related headlines recently, namely the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
These devices have mainly received scrutiny regarding their stationing in Betting Shops such as Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfair. Since the Gambling Act 2005, betting shops have been prohibited from having more than four of these machines in one branch (Woodhouse, 2017), which is one of the reasons why you may see multiple branches of the same betting shop on the same road, some within clear view of each other. Bingo Clubs, however, do not have a limit on the number of FOBTs that they have in their establishments, and there will be times when every single one of these machines will be taken, with customers happily shovelling all of their cash into them.
These rules only apply to betting shops because they use category B2 FOBTs, which are limited to a £100 stake and £500 prize per play. Bingo Clubs instead use Category B3, B3A and B4 machines, these have a maximum stake of between £1 and £2, and a maximum prize of £500. (Derby City Council, 2017).
Some relevant statistics on Bingo clubs are as follows;
£732 Million was spent in Bingo Clubs in 2016, this does not include online Bingo (Mintel, 2017)
The breakdown of Bingo club expenditure: Bingo Games: £366, FOTBs: £278 Food and Drink: £88.
Bingo club admissions are down from 49.5M in 2012 to 41.6M in 2016.
Gala is the leading Bingo Club in the UK with 130 venues, Mecca Bingo is lagging behind with 84.
There are 64,235 FOBTs in the gambling institutions in the UK, 61,222 of those are in Bingo clubs.
The machines, therefore, appear much more lucrative to customers and tend to have the same games as the FOBTs in betting shops but fall under different legislation because of the cap on their stakes. Games which punters can play are things like Deal or No Deal, Cleopatra Megajackpots and Clover Roll-Over. All with attractive bright colours designed by psychologists to keep people playing them for as long as possible.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel the need to stay in this room for very long. As a marketing student, I understand how these machines are designed to suck vulnerable people in and keep them playing for hours on end.
But when it comes down to the game of Bingo, I will admit that it was a fun thing to do, the tension of if you’re going to win or not and the excitement when you do is something that can still be enjoyed, not to mention the very reasonably priced food and drink that is offered there too. I feel that it is sad that a fun pass time has been reduced to an addictive and shameless ploy by multinational companies to leak money out of vulnerable people.