Bingo loyalists unhappy about millennial slang creeping into the game

Phoebe Southworth
Dabbers Social Bingo club

It is a game traditionally played by groups of middle-aged women over a glass of wine.

However, bingo has started to attract a new crowd of young players introduced to the game by hipster clubs offering vegan food and cocktails.

Most pastimes with falling participation rates - more than 1,200 bingo halls have closed since the 1980s - would welcome a new generation adopting the game for their nights out.

But bingo loyalists are not keen on the most memorable aspect of the game - the nicknames for numbers as they are called out - being replaced with modern slang.

A leading figure in the business has warned that lewd jokes and calls about social media sites used to attract millennials do not go down well with the traditional crowd.

Events aimed at students are rife with "vulgar" and "offensive" gags, such as references to oral sex when calling the number 69, says Miles Baron, the CEO of The Bingo Association and the National Bingo Game.

Some venues, such as Dabbers Social Bingo in the City of London, have replaced their calls with millennial-friendly versions - such '14 - Insta hipster scene', '48 - Not another Brexit debate' and '56 - Scrolling through the ex's pics'.

The club has even substituted '88 - Two fat ladies' with '88 - Two body positive ladies'.

Mr Baron believes the new repertoire of risque jokes and long number calls could be off-putting for traditional bingo players, who tend to be women aged between 45 and 55 who want to get on with the games without delay.

He told The Telegraph: "In some of the newer bingo contexts out there at the moment, which are a bit cutting-edge and are aimed at younger people, some of the innuendos are very offensive.

"If you're a traditional bingo customer in a bingo club and somebody calls 69 and says 6 and 9, sixty-nine, you mark off 69.

"But if you're in one of these more risque, food and drink, aimed at young people-type environments the innuendos on 6 and 9, sixty-nine, probably wouldn't be appropriate."

He added: "What they're doing is absolutely brilliant because it's changing perceptions and it's trying to bring bingo into the future.

"Nevertheless, some of the terminology, the jokes, the innuendo is downright vulgar."

Mr Baron explained that the traditional bingo number calls - such as '11 - Legs Eleven' and '28 - Overweight' - have been fazed out by many clubs because they take too long to read and are sometimes considered too politically incorrect, but the new wave of youth-focussed events are filling the void with even ruder phrases.

"Our younger customers who come at the weekend would probably embrace it and think it's okay, but our bread and butter - 45 to 55-year-old females - who come on a Wednesday or Thursday night, I don't think would be impressed," he said.

"There are people out there trying to take bingo into the world of the 20-year-old and with it comes some behaviour that perhaps people might find risque."

Bongo's Bingo, which caters to thousands of bingo fans of all ages across the country, said they have never had any complaints from offended customers.

Jonny Lacey, the company's co-founder, said: "I never want a show to be crude or rude. Our shows may have some tongue-in-cheek comments or a few innuendos but we have never had a complaint from anyone about the show being offensive."

Mecca, the UK's largest bingo game operator, said it is changing its bingo games because millennials want different things from the game compared with previous generations of players.

Barry Lyons, head of events, said: "We are adapting forms of the much loved game of bingo to appeal to everyone who wants to play the game and meet those changing needs.

"Our existing audience is still as important as ever and we consciously segment these new concepts by time and days so as not to alienate our existing customer base, but we have to innovate and change to ensure bingo stays relevant in 2019 and beyond.”