Has bingo got you buzzing? Do you wait nervously for those bingo balls to be released, for the bingo caller to chant those bingo numbers that are displayed only on your bingo card?

I played bingo only a few times while growing up, though my memories of those games are quite clear. My parents used to take me every now and then to the local community club (which would be turned into a bingo hall for the night) to meet friends and have a few laughs.

Our local hall was pretty makeshift, a far cry from the Gala Bingo or Mecca Bingo halls that are commonplace in most inner cities today, with their bright lights, big computerised screens linking halls from all over the country, displaying huge jackpot figures and great national prizes.

We didn’t have those fancy screens back then or any expert bingo caller. Instead we had a local community worker who would call out the numbers and the hall consisted of a makeshift arrangement of chairs with the caller standing on a wooden box covered with material, drawing numbers from a bingo blower which looked something like a Blue Peter project.

But that was all we required. Bingo at the time was simply a way of getting people in the community together, to help form a community spirit. And it did. People would come from estates all around and we would know pretty much everyone at the club. Fathers would be surrounding the bar as mothers with their children screaming in excitement, would get ready to play. “What do I do, what do I do?” would be the cry from a young first timer, their question drowned out by the sound of voices buzzing with excitement as the game began.

I still recall the time I first heard the phrase “two fat ladies… 22”. I used to love those old catchphrases. My sisters and I would double over with laughter and we would be thinking of our own phrases all the way home. Of course these phrases have been lost now as society has become more politically correct and the wave of internet bingo has brought the game into a modern era.

Once I caught up with the speed of the numbers being called out, I then would get caught up with the excitement of the game. I couldn’t believe that I could be so overjoyed just waiting for someone to call out a set of numbers that I may have on my ticket. But what joy when I won. I couldn’t believe the elation at being the only person amongst a few hundred whose numbers came out first. Though the prize of a frozen turkey was no great shakes, nonetheless, I won.

So what of bingo in today’s world? Well there are still over 450 bingo halls in the UK, with Gala Bingo currently holding the majority with some 175 bingo clubs, showing that people still seek the excitement of a get together at a local bingo hall.

However, with some 65% of the UK now buying National Lottery tickets each week, and some 100,000 people regularly gambling at bingo online, you wonder where the future lies for this great community retreat. Couple that with the new Gambling Act (due to be enforced at the end of 2007) which proposes the development of super casinos in a number of key areas across the UK, and you can be forgiven for thinking that bingo will lose all its traditional and local community appeal.

Perhaps all is not lost however. Online bingo has also done some good to promote the land-based bingo craze, as figures show an increase in bingo hall attendance to over 80 million admissions this year, a 2% increase on the previous year. Bingo expenditure has also reached some £1.83 billion and contributing £82 million to the exchequer.

Online bingo sites like Chit Chat Bingo also provide a certain community element, and the chat rooms are said to be the community halls of the future. The bingo chat rooms allow people from all over the country to gather in virtual bingo halls and have a few laughs while playing bingo online. The chat moderators also provide fun games and the freedom for people to discuss whatever they wish as they too wait on edge for lady luck to sprinkle some magic on their bingo tickets.

I guess the only things that are missing from these online virtual bingo halls, are the sight of fathers surround a bar and the red faced winner launching into a cry of “bingo” as their numbers come up. Still I am sure we all have a well stocked bar at home and all dance around the room with glee when we realise we have just won a game of bingo!

By Morgan Collins