Is Bingo Dying in Yorkshire?

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Yorkshire’s bingo industry has seen a number of ups and downs over the past few decades. A game once enjoyed by many at local bingo halls has come under threat because changes to legislation, spending habits and the development of digital gaming. Does this mean an end to all land-based bingo in the Yorkshire county, or are businesses adapting to meet consumer demand?

Following the passing of the Betting and Gambling Act in 1960, bingo quickly became a popular pastime that was enjoyed by many people across the whole of Britain. The law was brought in to help do away with old, restrictive gambling laws and help prevent illegal street betting.

Bingo halls quickly began to thrive in the sixties. Within just three years of the legislation being passed, the number of bingo players peaked at an impressive 14 million. In a small mining town in West Yorkshire with a population of 19,000 people, a local newspaper calculated that there were 3,500 bingo sessions taking place each week.

However, as loopholes in the law allowed criminals to cover up illegal activity, the law was amended to ensure that all bingo and other gambling operators purchased licences and complied with rules set out by the Gaming Board.

By the turn of the 21st century, the number of bingo players reached an all-time low. Some reports suggested that the number of players had dropped by 90% since its peak. As the choice and range of evening entertainment venues grew, bingo became a much less popular pursuit.

The industry was damaged further by the introduction of the smoking ban inside premises in 2007. A couple of the biggest bingo operators reported a 15 percent drop in revenue following the ban.

The decrease in revenue is a result of bingo players now having to go outside to smoke, when they previously enjoyed smoking during gameplay. This had a further impact on revenue from casino game machines, as players now use breaks between bingo games to go outside and smoke rather than to play these games as they had previously.

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“Devoted players”

Bingo halls across the country took another hit the following year, as the financial recession caused revenues to plummet further. With a rise in job losses and the cost of living soaring, players had much less disposable income to enjoy at the bingo.

In the Yorkshire county, independent bingo halls suffered the most. The Tivoli Bingo Hall in Leeds was just one victim of the financial crash. Devoted players had been visiting the venue in the Middleton estate for over half a century.

Unfortunately, the number of players had decreased from 2,500 in its heyday, to less than 500 players each week on average. Those most impacted by the loss of The Tivoli Bingo Hall were the local elderly community. Many local older residents enjoyed spending much of their day at the hall. Bingo was not just a source of fun, but also provided a place to socialise and prevented loneliness for those most at risk of isolation.

Bingo halls, such as The Tivoli, are the bedrock of small communities in areas of Yorkshire, they provide a social hub for residents that cannot be replicated on online bingo websites.

However, online bingo is fast becoming the more popular way of playing the game. There are an estimated 3.5 million online bingo players in the UK. Online bingo sites have introduced a number of great offers and welcome bonuses in order to be competitive with one another.

Some websites even offer bingo for free as a way of introducing new players, or players on a budget, to try out their games. Free bingo enables players to play the game without putting down a deposit, giving them the chance to play and learn about the game without any risk. Prizes for these games often come in the form of freebies, gift vouchers, branded merchandise or loyalty points.

This makes it very difficult for already cash-strapped local bingo halls to compete, meaning that their prizes are often not as good as those offered by online bingo websites or large land-based bingo chains.

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“Greatly missed”

Online bingo is often more convenient. It can be played practically anywhere, including at home, on the commute to work or just when out and about. Staying in rather than going out is becoming a growing trend. What makes online bingo even more appealing is that there is no need to worry about getting ready, paying for childcare or transport or paying an entry fee to a venue.

The Tivoli is not the only local bingo hall to suffer. Many other bingo venues have disappeared from Yorkshire street as redevelopment and regeneration of local towns becomes a higher priority for local councils.

Clifton Bingo Hall in Cleethorpes was another independent venue, run by a local family, that has closed down in recent years. This venue has also been greatly missed by residents in the area, who spent much of their time playing and socialising there.

Clifton was demolished in order to make way for a new development of residential properties and office buildings. In 2018, planning permission for 99 apartments and over 8,000 square foot of commercial space was sought by a development firm.

This illustrates how the development of much needed housing in Yorkshire is coming at the cost of local venues, such as bingo halls, that play an important role in the community for older residents.

Other independent venues, like the Buckingham Bingo Club in Bradford, are being purchased by larger bingo chains. The Buckingham was bought out by Fraser Capital Management, a business that owns the Club 3000 bingo chain.

While the purchasing this struggling independent bingo hall has secured the jobs of its workers, the development of the hall has made it unrecognisable to those who had enjoyed it previously.

The fate of bingo in Yorkshire is not clear. With the rising popularity of online bingo and the cost of living increasing, playing bingo at a bingo hall is becoming a less desirable activity for many. However, local bingo halls remain an important social hub for older residents in small Yorkshire towns, they are reliant on these venues as a familiar place to socialise with others in their community.

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