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Hosting a Bingo Night Legally

Hosting a Bingo Night Legally

Sue Dawson

Considering the times that we live in, most people are pretty keen on spending time with their friends and socialising in public. And what better way than to run a bingo night? Well, you might have a few more raucous alternatives in mind.

But given that our site is about, you know, bingo, we thought we’d stick with one of the UK’s most popular gambling games. Accordingly, we’ve put together a step by step guide on how to run a bingo night.

Keep in mind that our guide relates to real money bingo events that don’t require a licence – the Gambling Commission has rules about running bingo games which we’ll cover as we go along. So why host a bingo night? What’s the point?

For one thing, number daubing certainly ‘ticks the boxes’ when it comes to having fun and bringing people together. Indeed, there’s  no disputing the communal aspect of the game, whether you’re playing bingo online or off.

That’s motive covered, then – but where and how to set up a bingo night?

Bingo Night

How to Host a Bingo Night without a Licence

As far as legal unlicensed real money bingo games are concerned, you’ve basically got two options as stipulated by the Gambling Commission. You can either host a bingo night as a private event or in certain public premises as a fund-raiser.

Each option carries with it certain rules which we’ll cover as we go along. So whether you’re looking for info on how to host a bingo night fundraiser or setting up a home-based soiree, we recommend you read on. Let’s begin by taking a look at the kind of venues you can legally use without a licence.

Choose Your Venue

This is going to be one of your most important considerations given current regulations, as well as the potential impact it’s going to have on your budget. Your decision will of course depend on the type of bingo night you want to host.

Home-Based Bingo

If you’re planning a small get-together with friends, your home is probably going to be the best solution. It’ll make for a more familiar, intimate setting that will allow everybody to relax and enjoy the evening.

You’ll also have far more control over the actual event with no need to worry about the restrictions that often come with public venues. In this day and age, there are plenty you’d need to consider. Then there’s the cost factor. Hosting a bingo night at home is going to be a lot cheaper.

The Law

As per the Gambling Act 2005, hosting a bingo night at home falls under domestic gaming. This is one of two types of private gaming, the other being residential gaming. Such events should be held as part of a domestic occasion in a private dwelling in which usually reside that can’t be accessed by the general public.

No profits can be gleaned from these events, so you won’t be able to do a Del Boy by charging entry fees and such-like, even if you plan on donating all of the proceeds to charity.

Legal Summary

  • Game Must be Held in Private Dwelling that the Public Can’t Access
  • Game Must be Part of a Domestic Occasion
  • You Can’t Charge Entry Fees
  • You Can’t Make a Profit
  • You Can’t Play Virtually or Online

See: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/19/schedule/15/part/1

Bingo at a Hall of Residence

Bingo can be a great stress reliever which makes it a popular option among students. After all, attending university can be extremely hard work, especially during Fresher’s Week. Ahem, anyway., if you reside at a hall of residence, it’s perfectly legit to host a bingo event and could be a great way to meet fellow dossers, sorry we mean ‘scholars’.

The Law

Hosting a bingo night at a hall of residence falls under the residential gaming rule. Thus, the game should be played at a physical location that’s inaccessible to the public and at least half of the participants must reside there. Again, you won’t be able to profit from the game, place a levy on stake/prize money or charge admission fees.

And as is the case with domestic gaming, Aunt Bev from Brisbane won’t be able to join the raucous ranks via Zoom or any other online communications platform for that matter. Remote and online gambling requires a licence. The game has to be non-commercial too and can’t be part of a business or trade.

Legal Summary

  • Game Must be Held in a Private Dwelling that the Public Can’t Access
  • At Least Half the of the Participants Must Live at the Location
  • You Can’t Charge Entry Fees
  • You Can’t Make a Profit, Place a Levy on Stake or Prize Money
  • You Can’t Play Virtually or Online
  • You Can’t be Part of a Trade or Business

See: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/19/schedule/15/part/1

How to Host Bar Bingo

Most of us aren’t exactly averse to visiting a pub every now and then. They’re a great place to retreat, relax and socialise in a pleasant environment. If you’re one of those people who’ve got a ‘local’, the surroundings are going to be familiar for you and your pals. You also won’t have to worry about the planning side of things – just kick back, relax and let the staff take care of the music, food and drinks.

However, hosting a bingo night at an unfamiliar watering hole is going to require research. It’s therefore a good idea to pay a visit, no matter how impressive the website might be. Happily, spotting a poor quality pub is very, very easy.

For instance, filthy, dilapidated toilets should tell you plenty, and none of it positive. Dirty or unsuitable glasses, slow service and indifferent staff members are other dead giveaways. Pay attention to the clientele too – harbour any doubts about leaving the place alive and it might be a good idea to take your custom, as well as your fun, well-intended bingo night elsewhere.

The Law

Hosting a bingo night at a pub without a licence could fall under the Gambling Commission’s exempt gaming rule provided the proprietors have a license to serve alcohol. So this could also apply to places like student union bars.

But under such an edict, the game must be played as an equal chance activity. Additionally, stakes and prizes should not exceed £2000 in a 7-day period. If they do, your event would be classed as high turnover bingo and you’d have to contact the Gambling Commission to let them know. This is because multiple high-turnover games require a licence.

The stake amount must also be limited to £5 per person per game with all stakes returned as prizes. Like home-based bingo, you’re not allowed to make a profit even if it’s for charity and you can’t charge participation or admission fees. Linking games are also verboten as is skimming (levy) money from the stakes or prizes. Virtual or online participation is a no-no too.

Legal Summary

  • Game Must Be Equal Chance
  • Under-18s Can’t Play
  • Stakes and Prizes Must not exceed £2000 in 7-Day Period
  • Maximum Stake Limited to £5
  • All Stakes Must be Returned as Prizes
  • You Can’t Make a Profit or Charge Participation/Admission Fees
  • Games Can’t Be Linked to other Premises
  • You Can’t Levy on Stake or Prize Money
  • Virtual or Online Participation is Not Allowed

See: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/19/section/269

Community, School and Church Halls

Community, School and Church Halls

Hosting a bingo night at a community, school or church hall could prove ideal for hosting bingo fundraisers. These venues are set up to serve as meeting hubs for the local populace and tend to be versatile spaces that can be configured to host a variety of social gatherings.

In addition to the usual essential facilities, such premises are often equipped with kitchens – handy if you’re planning on preparing food on-site. Parking is often available too which could be a big bonus for guests who live further afield.

Whether you plan on hosting a bingo night at a community or church hall, remember that your charity event could really benefit the wider community, not to mention your chosen cause. And when all is said and done, this is usually going to be the cheapest option as far as venue hire goes.

The Law

For those of you seeking info on how to host a bingo fundraiser, your choice of venue is obviously going to be particularly important, especially if you don’t want to fall foul of the Gambling Commission. Happily, the above-mentioned premises are permitted by the GC because they don’t hold gambling licences.

But you’ll need to make sure that your bingo fundraiser takes place as part of a non-commercial event. This means that all of the profits must go towards fundraising and the reasonable costs of hosting your event. Reasonable costs mean things like the printing of bingo cards and the provision of refreshments.

The bingo itself should also be an equal chance game and everybody who takes part must be made aware of your chosen cause in advance. A maximum amount of £8 can be charged per person for admission fees and there’s a maximum prize value of £600, assuming your event is a one-off. If it’s part of a series of events, then you’re allowed a £900 limit (for the prizes, not the admission fees :-)).

Legal Summary

  • Venue Can’t Have a Gambling Premises Licence
  • Bingo Game Must be a Non-Commercial Event
  • All Proceeds Must be used for Fundraising and Reasonable Costs
  • Game Must Be Equal Chance
  • You Need to Tell Participants about the Charitable Cause in Advance
  • You Can’t Pocket the Proceeds
  • Third Party Profits (for example, seller of refreshments) Don’t Count as Money Raised

See: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/19/part/14

Members and Commercial Clubs

Hosting a bingo night at a member’s club means that you’ve got the option to rely on the club to take care of the refreshments and music. It’s highly unlikely (although we’re sure there are exceptions) that the facilities are going to be found wanting. After all, establishments like this are run on the strength of their ability to attract and keep members by providing a well-run, convivial ‘home from home’ environment.

Alternatively, you could also consider hosting a bingo night at a commercial club, namely one that’s been set up with the express aim of making money. The most obvious example might be a leisure centre or gym. commercial clubs will often feature better facilities simply because they make bigger profits. But it also follows that they tend to be more expensive. So how do you host a bingo night at one of these venues without irking the Gambling Commission?

The Law

These premises are governed by the exempt gaming rule. As mentioned in the section on pubs, this means that all players should have an equal chance of winning. Obviously, you’re not going to cheat participants over a game of bingo (we hope anyway), but there are rules and rules need to be observed and all that.

Additionally, the game should not be the main purpose of your chosen club and must therefore be hosted as an ‘additional activity’. Furthermore, each participant must be a member of the club or the guest of a member. Total stakes and prizes must not exceed £2000 in a 7-day period and you can’t charge more than £1 in participation fees per person for a one-day event.

Legal Summary

  • Game Must Be Equal Chance
  • Under-18s Can’t Play
  • Stakes and Prizes Must not exceed £2000 in 7-Day Period
  • Maximum Participation Fee £1
  • Games Can’t Be Linked to other Premises
  • You Can’t Levy on Stake or Prize Money
  • Virtual or Online Participation is Not Allowed

Hopefully this will put you in the picture with regards the many, many rules that apply to hosting your own bingo night at specific venues. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can happily move on to areas that are hitherto unlegislated.

See: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/19/part/12

Bingo Event Promotion

Spread the Word

With any luck, you’ve settled on a venue. Your next job is to let people know – this is really important because if you don’t inform others, nobody will turn up. In our considered experience, a bingo event without participants presents certain challenges. As well as being on your own, you’ll probably have to serve as bingo caller and player which would be really tiring. To avoid this unhappy scenario, we therefore strongly recommend telling other human beings about your planned event. But what’s the best way to get the word out?

Text/Social Media

For those of you hosting an informal bingo night at home, it follows that an informal invitation will often suffice. And nothing screams informal quite like a text message. So as to avoid a lonesome evening, critical information should be included in your invitational text regarding the time, date and location of your event. If you’re a real skinflint, you could use WhatsApp to save on your phone bill.

Social Media

Another great (and free) way to get the word out is to use social media. Facebook is the most obvious choice here. With one click, you can create an event page and then invite your friends and family. Once set up, you’ll be able to add all the important information about your bingo night – in addition, anybody with questions can make use of the discussion area. To build anticipation and generate a bit of hype, you could also post teasers, maybe about your chosen bingo caller, the venue or prizes.

Instagram’s countdown ticker is another useful tool for promoting a bingo event. Although primarily used for promoting tickets or specific products, it could also be used as a handy reminder. And don’t forget about the good old hash-tag which is now used by most social media platforms. Think of a unique, short word that’s catchy and easy to spell – you should consider using it on all of your promotional collateral or channels.


Flyers are an extremely effective way of spreading the word about your bingo night, particularly if you’re planning a big gathering. There are plenty of companies out there that offer printing services, among them Vistaprint and Banana Print. The cost of using this method depends on the quality of your preferred flyers and the quantity you’re planning on distributing.

Relying on professionals expect to spend somewhere in the region of £10 to £60. To save money, you could create the flyers yourself and use your own printer if you have one. You’ll have to fork out on ink and paper but it will be cheaper.

Don’t Forget! – As per the Gambling Commission, you’ll have to inform participants if your bingo event is going to be for charity. So be sure to include this information on your event page or flyer.

Bingo Equipment

Now for the bingo equipment – do you go posh and pay a pretty penny for a professional bingo blower? Or do you make do with an old-school tombola cage. And what about the actual bingo balls, cards and daubers? Let’s go through the requisite paraphernalia one at a time.

Bingo Ball Machines

Throughout the history of bingo, people have been trying to come up with efficient ways of distributing the actual balls. In the early twentieth century Edwin S Lowe came up with the wire tombola cage that’s still widely used to this day.

Tombola Cages

Tombola Cages

Tombola cages are simple to use and get the job done when it comes to releasing the balls. You put them into the drum, wind it a few times and then release the balls through a chute. Retailers usually sell wire tombola cages as part of full bingo sets that include the balls, cards and counters/markers. For informal, home-based events, these sets are probably going to be your best option – they can be purchased for as little as £15.

Bigger bingo events with more people are going to require equipment that’s a bit more sophisticated. Also keep in mind the Gambling Commission rules about ‘equal chance games’ – to meet this requirement, you should source equipment that eliminates mistakes such as releasing too many balls, dropping them on the floor etc.

Although you might be able to get away with the odd unintentional mishap among friends, when you’re running a serious bingo event such as a fundraiser, the players will expect assurances about the fairness of play. Fumbling about with the bingo balls and fiddly tombola machines doesn’t really inspire confidence.


  • Easy to Use
  • Traditional
  • Cheap
  • Available as part of a Set


  • Potential for Mishaps
  • Probably Not Suitable for Larger Groups

Electronic Bingo Machines

Electronic bingo machines or number generators reduce the chance of mistakes and are very easy to use. It’s simply a case of pressing a button to generate a random number which is then displayed on a board. The more expensive ones include an audience display component as well – ideal for larger groups and venues.

Most can be configured for all variants including 75, 80 or 90 ball bingo games. Like tombola cages, they’re often sold as kits that comprise everything you need including the tickets, balls and daubers. The only downside to electronic bingo machines is the price. Be prepared to part with a couple of hundred quid for these wondrous contraptions – unfortunately convenience comes at a cost.


  • Easy to Use
  • Little Chance of Caller Error
  • Display Component Ideal for Medium to Large Groups
  • Configurable
  • Available in Kits


  • Can be Pricey
  • Bit Soulless

Professional Bingo Blowers

Bingo blowers are used in commercial bingo halls and are therefore perfect for major bingo events. The balls are placed into a glass cabinet and then jumbled around by a torrent of air. To release the balls, you pull a lever and a random ball gets caught in the exit pipe, shooting up to the top of the machine. The caller then shouts the number, placing it in its corresponding recess. As you might have guessed though, they’re not exactly cheap. The best models can retail for thousands of pounds.


  • Easy to Use
  • Little Chance of Caller Error
  • Ideal for Large Bingo Events


  • Very Expensive

Online Number Generators

Another option would be to do away with a standard bingo ball distributor and go with an online number generator. There are numerous websites from which to download one as well as various apps. Easy to use and well-suited to informal gatherings, they could also be used for larger venues although you’d probably need a laptop and projector to display the numbers clearly. This means more hassle and potentially a bigger outlay.


  • Easy to Use
  • Little Chance of Caller Error
  • Free
  • Widely Available


  • Bit Soulless
  • May Need Laptop/Projector for Larger Groups and Venues

Bingo Machines – Purchase or Hire?

Investing in an electronic bingo machine or bingo blower seems a bit silly for a one-off event. Unless you’re planning to host bingo events for the rest of your natural life, it doesn’t really make good financial sense. You could of course go cheap and invest in a tombola or random number generator – the perfect solution for  home-based bingo, not so much for medium to larger events.

The alternative is to hire out the actual equipment. Prices vary for these types of services but be prepared to spend a minimum of three figures. The best suppliers feature full bingo packages consisting of everything you need including the machine, balls, daubers, bingo cards, even PA systems and lighting. Some even throw in professional bingo callers. This may be a good option for those of you hosting a fundraising bingo night.

Bingo Cards/Tickets

Bingo Cards/Tickets

As mentioned, bingo cards/tickets tend to be included as part of a whole set or kit. In fact, some of the kits that we’ve come across include thousands of bingo tickets which should prove more than sufficient for most bingo gatherings. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to source items individually, then bingo cards are easy to come by. They can be purchased at all manner of outlets including stationery/office supply shops, post offices, supermarkets and newsagents. They’re also sold online.

In contrast to other types of bingo equipment they can only be used once though, so you’ll obviously need to get the numbers right. Estimate or work out how many people are coming to your event, taking into account the fact that most will be up for buying multiple tickets. If you’re expecting a lot of players, purchase bingo books to avoid running out. Available for as little as £5, they usually contain a minimum of 600 tickets. Expect to pay around £30 for books containing more than a 1000.

Bingo Daubers

Find yourself fretting about bingo daubers? Then it sounds like you want your event to be as authentic as possible. Fair enough. But bingo daubers aren’t actually that easy to come by on the high-street.

Thank goodness for the internet then. Like cards or tickets, they’re often sold with kits but can also be purchased individually, either at sites like Amazon or from a bingo supply specialist. Alternatively, you could supply pens or pencils to your participants, if you’re feeling a bit more pragmatic about marking the numbers off.

Bingo Prizes

Now then, how to determine bingo prizes? In addition to the venue and equipment, prizes are obviously going to be a very important consideration.

Private Bingo Nights

In terms of private, home-based dos, you could take the approach of Bongo’s Bingo. This debauched bingo playing road-show is known for doling out useless prizes including breakfast cereal, soft toys and such like. Their treasure-chest often contains more valuable items but the point here is that the ‘so rubbish it’s cool’ approach often goes down a treat with players.

The other option is to furnish winners with decent, inexpensive rewards, perhaps a bottle of wine, vouchers or gift cards, maybe a box of chocolates. Try not to go overboard with small home-based events though as you could find yourself out of pocket.

Bingo Fundraisers

Cheap and cheerful isn’t necessarily the best way to go with bingo fund-raisers. While a lot of the prizes mentioned above might be suitable, throwing in the odd wow-factor prize is going to help you sell tickets. After all, people are going to want worthwhile prizes to play for.

Try to get creative in sourcing them because going big in this area has the potential to really dent your budget. One tactic might be to seek out local companies to see if any would be willing to supply the prizes in return for a mention at your event. Whichever approach you take, remember that the prizes can’t be worth more than £600.

Bingo Prize Ideas

  • Bottle of Wine
  • Bottle of Champagne
  • Hampers
  • Gift Cards/Vouchers
  • Cash Prizes
  • Box of Chocolates
  • Toiletries/Fragrances
  • Silly Inexpensive Gifts


For a well-rounded bingo event, the provision of refreshments is a must. You’ve got a couple of options in this area.

Home-Based Bingo Refreshments

If you’re hosting at home with friends, a simple supermarket buffet may well suffice. There’s no need to get too formal, no need to prepare a five course banquet or have a butler greet your guests at the door. Your event is supposed to be light-hearted and fun after all!

With that said, being at home means you’ve got access to cooking facilities so you could go the whole hog as it were and cook up a storm. But the point here is that keeping it simple might be your best bet for smaller, private get-togethers.

Bingo Fundraiser Refreshments

Hosting at a pub or bar means that you’ll be able to let other people take care of refreshments. Provided that you’ve done your homework, then your chosen venue will serve the kind of pub fare that hopefully won’t hospitalise your participants.

On a more serious note, make sure that the establishment caters for special dietary requirements. Food allergies/intolerances, although rather fashionable these days, are actually a thing – worth considering during planning.

Some venues, such as community halls, will include their own kitchens meaning that you’ll have cooking facilities at your disposal. With larger events, you may want to push the boat out a bit more than you would at home. You don’t have to be too extravagant – fish and chips, a buffet, pizza or curry dishes should be acceptable or maybe a barbecue during the summer months. Alternatively, you could hire a third party to provide refreshments.


  • Supermarket Buffet
  • Home-Cooked Buffet
  • Pizza
  • Barbecue
  • Fish and Chips
  • Curry
  • Bolognese


To set the mood and tone of your bingo event, consider putting together a play-list of tunes, preferably a genre that fits the make-up of your participants. The Best of Drill Music Volume 1 might not be the best choice if your players are over 30. Equally, Perry Como’s Greatest Hits isn’t going to be appreciated by anyone under the age of…um…100? We jest of course.  Perry’s an absolute legend. Chart compilations, movie/TV soundtracks or specific eras such as the 70s or 80s often go down well. If you’re hard up for ideas, you can always ask your friends to send over their requests.


  • Chart Compilations
  • TV/Movie Soundtracks
  • Specific Eras (70s or 80s)
  • Ask Your Guests


Hopefully the above info will provide you with plenty of bingo night ideas and help you to navigate the somewhat confusing regulatory landscape.


Gambling Act 2005

Gambling Commission – Licensees and Businesses (Bingo Sector)

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