A Beginner’s Guide to Online Bingo
The game of bingo is part of our British cultural heritage and there can’t be many people who have never played it before. If you haven’t played for money or prizes, you’ve probably played for fun. If you are one of the minority who never have – or one of the larger group who have played bingo before but never played it online, this guide is for you.
What is bingo?
Bingo is a game where each player is given a different card (or cards) containing a set of numbers. Cards are also referred to as tickets; strictly speaking card is the correct term in 75 ball and ticket in 90 ball but the two are generally used interchangeably. Numbered balls are then drawn from a pot and the numbers announced by a bingo caller. The player has to daub the numbers on their card – i.e. mark them off as the corresponding numbers are called and the aim of the game is to be the first player to call bingo after completing a set of numbers. In some games this will be all the numbers on the card – a coverall or full house, in other games just a line or pattern. Many games have more than one prize; regular 90 ball bingo for instance has prizes for 1 line, 2 lines and full house. In real money bingo – as played in bingo halls for decades – each card has a set price and the money from card purchases goes into the prize pot (with the house taking a cut, of course) to be paid out to players as prizes. This means that the prize or prizes for the game are determined by the total value ticket sales apart from in the case of a bingo game with a guaranteed jackpot (where the prize money is a pre-announced sum that will be paid out regardless of ticket sales).
Real money bingo, whether online or offline, is classed as gambling and is regulated by the UK Gambling Commission. To play it, you must be over 18.
Online real money bingo is simpler and easier to play than bingo hall bingo in one important respect and that is auto-daub – meaning that players do not need to check the numbers on their cards against the calls or indeed pay any attention to the bingo game at all or even be logged in when it happens! Auto-daub is a necessity for online bingo as otherwise the speed and reliability of a player’s data connection (which is not under the control of the bingo site) would affect their chance of winning and this would not meet with regulatory approval. For players who enjoy the challenge of manual daub there are many bingo apps for iOS or Android and on Facebook that feature it (usually along with a host of power-ups and other special features) but what these apps do not and are not allowed to do is pay out real money prizes.
While actually playing the bingo game itself online is easier than in a bingo hall, first the player must navigate the complexities of finding a bingo site to play at, signing up and depositing and after that, deciding which bingo room to play in, entering the room and buying tickets.
Finding a bingo site
There are literally hundreds of online bingo sites to choose from – more than 250 are listed on this site – and the sheer amount of choice can be bewildering for a new player. If you just want to start playing bingo as quickly as possible, a good place to start would be a Virtue Fusion or Dragonfish bingo site with an attractive welcome offer – such as Sky Bingo (Virtue Fusion) or Brown Cow Bingo (Dragonfish) – but if you want to spend a bit of time and energy deciding, here are some factors to consider, all of which we cover in our reviews:
- The bingo software and network – this will affect what types of bingo are on offer and how busy it is. The busier the bingo rooms, the higher the variance of the bingo play – i.e. more players means fewer but bigger wins.
- Is there a no deposit bonus offer? This would allow you to try the site out without any financial outlay, but don’t expect to be able to get any winnings out unless you go on to make a deposit.
- How big is the welcome deposit bonus offer? Is it a bingo bonus, a slots bonus or a bit of each? Are there free slots spins, a free bingo room for new players or any other extras? What are the wagering requirements and are there any time limits? For your first foray into online bingo it might be a good idea to pick a site that gives you longer than 7 days to use your welcome bonus.
- What is the availability of free bingo and penny bingo? Playing free and low cost bingo games can make deposit and bonus go a lot further.
- Does the bingo site have any exclusive bingo rooms or are they all networked with other sites? Networked rooms can be very busy, reducing the chance of winning.
- Does the bingo site run any special promotions for its players?
- What is the loyalty and/or VIP scheme like?
- What is the selection of slots like (and table games or scratchcards if these are of interest to you)?
- Is it a multi-product site which provides access to products other than bingo and slots? As well as sports betting, poker, lottery and eSports betting, multi-product sites offer the opportunity to place bets on such matters as the identity of the next James Bond, the winner of X Factor or – on a more sober note – the timing and outcome of the next General Election.
Creating and funding an account
Before starting the sign-up process with any bingo site it is important to follow some basic safety precautions; you will be sending personal information, which needs to be kept secure, over the internet so do make sure that the device you are using to do so is free of malware etc and that your connection is secure. This is not the time to be using public wi-fi!
The majority of bingo sites make it very easy to create an account – just click where it says JOIN NOW or REGISTER and fill in the details. These will include your name, address, email address, phone number and date of birth. Even if you are not going to make a deposit right away you will still need to supply all this information (and probably also register a credit or debit card) in order to receive any no-deposit bonus on offer. The bingo site is required under the conditions of their licence to carry out ID and age verification (which is usually done by checking your details with credit reference agencies and/or against the electoral roll) and this is why they ask for so much information. Sometimes you may have to supply further ID within 72 hours in order to continue playing (this is more likely to happen if you use a deposit method other than a credit card). You will also need to create a user name and password (and at Virtue Fusion sites, a chat name which is not the same as your user name). Since real money is involved, it is extremely important to make sure that the password is secure – and that means difficult to guess and not the same as any of your other passwords! (Don’t worry if you forget your password though as you will normally be able to reset it via the email address or phone number you supplied when you registered).
Once you have created an account, unless you are starting off with a no-deposit bonus you will need to deposit some money. While there are many possible ways to fund an online bingo account, by FAR the simplest is to register a credit or debit card with the bingo site to be used for this and future deposits – and in fact, some bingo sites restrict their welcome bonus offer to first deposits which are made by credit or debit card. The credit or debit card MUST be in the player’s own name (again, this is required under the conditions of the site’s licence). If you use a credit card, be aware that many credit card providers class transactions with gambling sites as cash so there could be a transaction fee and/or no interest free period.
After registering a payment method, the next step is to use it to make a deposit and in order to qualify for the welcome offer this normally needs to be at least £10, although a few sites offer a welcome bonus on a £5 deposit. At some stage during the process (or later at some Virtue Fusion sites where the welcome offer is not triggered until you have spent your deposit) you may be shown a pop-up asking you whether you accept or decline a bonus and the important thing to bear in mind here is that if you decline the bonus you will NOT be able to accept it at a later date – so pay attention! Why would anyone want to decline a bonus, you may ask? The reason is that bonuses always carry some form of wagering requirement so players need to be given the opportunity to opt out in case they want to avoid it. Another thing to know about bonuses is that at many bingo sites (one exception being Sky Bingo), any cash you have in your account will be used first and the bonus will not come into play unless you have no cash left – so if you are lucky enough to win right away and the bonus has a short expiry you may never get to use it!
Setting some limits
At this stage many bingo sites prompt the player to set daily, weekly and or monthly deposit limits and this is done as part of a responsible gambling policy as required by the regulator. Even if you do not think you would ever be tempted to deposit more than you can afford it is a good idea to set a deposit limit just in case there is ever some kind of security breach. Once set, a deposit limit can be changed but if the player chooses to increase the limit it will not take effect right away.
Choosing a bingo game
Now to play bingo! The next step is to go to the bingo lobby and look at the rooms on offer. You will be able to see for each bingo room when the next game starts, what sort of bingo it is, what the ticket price is, the prize value and how many players are in the room – and in some cases who the chat host is and the size of the room jackpot (if any). Many bingo sites have a tabbed lobby and this allows similar bingo rooms to be grouped together – for example, the 90 ball bingo rooms could be in a different tab to the 75 ball rooms and rather more usefully, exclusive bingo rooms (for that site’s players only) could be kept separate from networked rooms. The below example shows the exclusive bingo rooms tab at Sun Bingo.
As far as the prize value goes, as discussed earlier some bingo games have set prizes which do not depend on ticket sales but usually the value of the prize pot goes up as more players buy into the game. If there is a jackpot shown, this is an extra prize which is paid out to the winner of a bingo game which finishes within a certain number of calls (not something that is likely to happen often).
The traditional British 90 ball bingo and the American classic 75 ball bingo are the most common types of bingo game, with both on offer at almost all bingo sites, but there are many other bingo variants to try out. If you are new to online bingo why not try several different types out to see which one you find most enjoyable?
Buying bingo tickets
When you see a room you want to play in, click on the room. Once inside, the next decision you need to make is how many tickets you are going to buy for the game and this can be anything from 1 to the maximum allowed. Different bingo rooms have different maximum ticket purchases but because auto-daub makes it possible for players to manage lots of tickets, the maximum can be as many as 120. Playing with a small number of tickets can be frustrating as none of them may get anywhere near bingo which makes for a dull game, but playing with a large number of tickets can get through a lot of money quickly if luck is not with you; it is up to each player to find the balance that works for them. For players who prefer to play with a small number of tickets, multi-stake bingo may be a good choice as some variants play with one ticket per player only. Alternatively there are some bingo rooms with a relatively low maximum purchase; as can be seen in the Sun Bingo lobby screenshot above they have a 90 ball room with a 12 ticket maximum, and the Dragonfish bingo sites in the Ignite/Mandalay Media group have both 90 and 75 ball rooms with a 24 ticket maximum.
At Dragonfish and Cozy bingo sites you will see a screen full of bingo tickets for the next game and you just click on the ones you want and click the Buy button. At Virtue Fusion bingo sites you start off with the Buy button and this opens a window where you get to select the number of tickets you want (usually via a slider). Most bingo sites also have the option to select or purchase several tickets in one go, usually in fairly large amounts that are multiples of six and often including a “Max” option that selects the maximum number of tickets a player is allowed to have to that particular game. In 90 ball rooms there is frequently the option to buy a strip of tickets – or multiple strips of tickets – and this means a set of 6 tickets which include all of the numbers 1 – 90 once and only once each.
The examples above are from a 90 ball room and a 5 line/75 ball room at Foxy Bingo. The 90 ball room offers bulk selection of 4, 8, 12 or 16 strips of tickets and the 75 ball room offers bulk selection of 24, 48, 72 or 96 cards. It would be easy to click on the 4 thinking you were buying 4 tickets – and select 4 x 6 = 24 tickets. At Foxy and other Dragonfish/888 sites a second click is needed actually to buy the tickets so such a mistake is easily rectified. More care is required at Cozy powered sites as there is a default selection when you enter the bingo room, so clicking Buy without selecting any cards could result in accidentally purchasing 48 cards.
You’ll also see a counter ticking down the time until the game starts. Some players fill this time playing online slots (which can usually be done without leaving the bingo room) and some presumably go off to make a cup of tea. There is also, however, the opportunity to join in one of the things that makes online bingo so special, and that is the chat with other roomies (bingo players in the room).
If you don’t fancy any of the bingo rooms that are currently running (and even if you do) most sites also offer some kind of pre-buy facility and this ranges from the fairly rudimentary arrangement at Dragonfish of opening bingo rooms hours, days or even weeks in advance to allow tickets to be pre-purchased for the first game to play in the room only, to the full monty at Virtue Fusion, where cards for any game (apart from free bingo) in any bingo room the player is allowed to access can be pre-purchased up to a week in advance.
It’s all about the chat
Bingo has always been a sociable activity, even before it went online, but the nature of online bingo (and its auto-daub feature) make it even more sociable than offline. Because online bingo games bring a group of players together who may be of different ages, from different backgrounds and different parts of the country but share a common interest and because they can chat while they play without jeopardising their play, it is an ideal opportunity to make friends with people you would never come across in real life.
At Dragonfish and Cozy the chat runs across the network and includes players from many different bingo sites. If you would prefer just to chat with other players at the same bingo site, for more of a community feel, this is available at Virtue Fusion sites and at sites that use the Dragonfish software but are not part of the main network (such as Bingo Hollywood and the Ignite/Mandalay Media mini network). Many bingo rooms constantly run chat games to help keep the chat lively (see below for more information about these). A really good chat host or chat moderator (acronym CH or CM) keeps the chat welcoming and lively even when there isn’t a chat game going on.
Chat can be a bit intimidating at first due to all the bingo slang and acronyms in use, but don’t be put off – usually everyone is very friendly and the lingo is easy to pick up. The main thing to bear in mind with chat is that if you navigate away from the bingo room, even if you come back almost immediately you won’t be able to see the previous messages any more – so if you like to chat, find a room with a lively conversation and/or an enjoyable chat game and stay in there.
Playing the game
Once the game starts there is no need for any further player input. As the balls are called the bingo software marks off numbers automatically and if you have several cards to the game it automatically sorts them to place the cards that are closest to a win at the top and (usually) marks them 1TG, 2TG etc at the appropriate time. The TG stands for “to go” – a card that is 2TG needs two more numbers to be marked off to win the next prize.
If you are lucky enough to win a prize the winnings will be automatically credited to your account (whether or not you are in the bingo room when the game plays) but before you can take any winnings out you will need to complete any wagering requirements that are associated with bonuses you have accepted. For example, if you originally deposited £10 and received a 300% bingo bonus with a 4x wagering requirement, £120 worth of bingo ticket purchases (4 x £30) would be needed to release winnings from playing with the bonus.
What else can I do?
Apart from playing bingo and chatting there are several other things to do at online bingo sites:
These are number, word or trivia games with loyalty points or small bonuses to be won; to get the prize the player has to have bought tickets for the bingo game that is going on at the same time as the chat game, and there may be further entry restrictions (such as at Cozy bingo sites, where players cannot participate unless they have made a deposit in the last 10 days). Dragonfish/Cassava/888 sites are popular with chat game aficionados as any hosted room will always have a chat game running, with the rules of the currently selected game visible in the chat when you join the room and in the chat room header. Virtue Fusion sites also run chat games, but on a more occasional basis with the chat host announcing them from time to time.
With one exception (Tombola, which has its own proprietary games instead) all bingo sites have a selection of online slot machines for their players to try and this mirrors the arrangement found at bingo halls where slot machines are available in the lounge area. At most bingo sites some slots are available inside the bingo rooms (so players can still keep an eye on their bingo cards and the chat) and there’s a bigger selection in the lobby and/or in a separate tab.
These are the sorts of games you’d find at a casino and include baccarat, roulette, blackjack and so on. Some big name sites have versions that run in real time with real live croupiers (these can be found in the Live Casino section).
If you’ve played the UK Lotto scratchcards these will be familiar – scratch to reveal the symbols and match three to win.
Daily free games
These often come with a guaranteed win of something, even if it’s just loyalty points or a deposit bonus code. Bingo sites which have these as a permanent fixture will have some sort of deposit or wagering related qualifying condition. For instance, some of the Ignite/Mandalay Media sites have a daily free pick-me game which is accessible for a week after making a deposit, and Gala Bingo has a choice of two scratchcards which can be played after spending £5 cash on bingo tickets in a day. Alternatively the game may be free to all players but only on site for a limited time; Foxy Bingo used to run this type of promotion several times a year and many bingo sites run one as an Advent Calendar in the run up to Christmas.
The majority of the promotions you will encounter offer some kind of extra for depositing or playing a certain amount (perhaps in a bingo room or on a slot you haven’t tried before); this could be a bonus or free slots spins but it could also be prize draw entries or access to a restricted entry bingo room. Occasionally you may come across promotions such as photo or caption competitions that are free to enter and nothing to do with bingo or slots play; these are most commonly run via social media so if this sort of promotion is of interest to you remember to check Facebook and Twitter for updates (some bingo sites also have an Instagram presence).