Given the popularity of bingo in numerous countries throughout the world, it is surprising how little scientific research has been carried out on the activity. To date, most of the research (including some of my own) has examined offline bingo (which is unsurprising given that playing bingo online is a relatively new phenomenon), and most of the published research is from a sociological perspective typically involving small-scale interview studies and/or observation of players in bingo halls. Research carried out between 1980 and 2005 has tended to report that the majority of bingo players are working class women who play the game primarily to socialize with their friends in what they perceive to be a very ‘safe’ (and somewhat non-masculine) environment.
Research carried out by the American sociologists Constance Chapple and Stacey Nofziger and published in the journal Deviant Behavior confirm these general findings but add that winning money eventually becomes an important motivation as constantly losing leads to the bingo playing ceasing (even if the main reason for playing bingo is sociability). Their research also reported that loneliness and boredom can also be critical factors in why women play bingo. Through the alleviation of boredom, bingo playing leads to the meeting of other like-minded people, and also helps to alleviate the loneliness. Online bingo sites have attempted to facilitate the sociability element by incorporating online chat options, the social rules are different online compared to offline. Whereas in offline bingo chatting is typically forbidden during game play, it is actively encouraged when playing bingo online. Online chat functions appear to be an effective retention tool by online bingo operators, and are specifically aimed at female players.
Online and offline bingo appear to have many similarities in terms of demographics. Online bingo sites (and the marketing and advertising they produce) tend to target women—particularly because bingo is the only form of gambling where women significantly outnumber men. For instance, we found in the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published in 2011, that 9% of the British adult population had played online and/or offline bingo in last year. Although men were more likely than women to participate in most forms of gambling activity, twice as many women (12%) had played bingo in the last year compared to men (6%).
One of the most noticeable trends that I have written about in the last few years is the feminization of gambling. I have argued that one of the reasons that greater numbers of women are gambling is because remote gambling environments (such as internet gambling and mobile phone gambling) are gender-neutral. In the same way that female bingo players view the offline environments in which they play ‘safe’, this is even more so online. While playing online bingo, females do not feel alienated and stigmatized as they sometimes feel in more male-dominated gambling environments such as betting shops and casinos. Furthermore, the perceived anonymity of playing online is another key factor that facilitates the playing of bingo online.
There also appears to be a new type of bingo player – one that only plays bingo online. In our most recent BGPS study, we found that 19% of all bingo players gambled online only (with 4% playing both online and offline, and the majority—77%—playing offline bingo only). As we predicted, playing bingo was highest among oldest people with 11% of those over 75 years having played bingo in the last year. However, more interesting was the fact that the bingo playing was almost as popular among the young with 10% of those aged 16 to 24 years having played bingo in the 12 months prior to the survey. Interestingly (and perhaps unsurprisingly), this group (being arguably more tech-savvy) was more likely to be playing bingo online, and women were significantly more likely than men to play bingo online at least once a week.
In the same way that online poker sites are now trying to attract more women, some online bingo sites appear to be trying to attract more men. This is being done on many levels including the use of more neutral (unisex) colours in website design, non-cash prizes that appeal across gender lines, and less female-centric marketing and advertising. There are also an increasing number of online casinos that have introduced online bingo to its game portfolio. Such tactics are what we psychologists call ‘foot-in-the-door’ techniques (the most obvious of which are marketing tactics like sign-up cash bonuses or ‘play-for-free and win real money’ offers) where acquisition incentives are given in an attempt to either cross-sell games and/or create longer-term repeat business.
Journalistic stories about the rise in popularity of online bingo sites claim that the most recent statistics suggest that many men also enjoy online bingo and that the numbers of men playing online are on the increase. However, I have not been able to verify such claims, and even if I could, statistics never tell the whole story. As Ebbe Skovdah (a Danish football manager) once stated—"statistics are like mini-skirts, they give you good ideas but they hide the most important things!”.