Multi-stake bingo is a fairly recent invention that makes the game more enjoyable to play at low cost.
The max cards problem
In a regular bingo game, each card has exactly the same chance of winning as any other card, and the chance of a particular card winning is one divided by the total number of cards in play. All players are playing for the same prize (which is either a fixed jackpot or else determined by ticket sales), but each player’s chance of winning depends on the number of cards they buy.
In a traditional game of bingo played at a bingo hall with paper cards and manual daubing, the maximum number of cards a player would to be able to handle in one game is quite small. One strip of six 90 ball tickets or three 75 ball cards contains every number once and once only, but go beyond that and the player has to try and find each number more than once – and most people would neither be able to keep up with the calls nor enjoy the game if they tried to do so.
When bingo is played electronically with auto-daub (whether this is on a tablet at a bingo hall or online), there are no such constraints on how quickly numbers can be marked off and indeed most online bingo games have rather a high maximum card purchase. A 96 card maximum, for instance, is usual at Dragonfish and 60 or even 120 is usual at Virtue Fusion.
Variance and number of cards purchased
The number of cards a player buys for each game is one of the factors that affect the variance of bingo play (the other is the number of players in the bingo room).
Max cards = Low variance play = Smaller, less infrequent wins
Fewer cards = High variance play = Larger, more infrequent wins
When low cost play is no fun
To illustrate this imagine the extreme example of a bingo room – let’s say a Dragonfish 75 ball room – with 11 players. 10 players each buy the maximum 96 cards for a game. The other player buys just one card.
The total number of cards in play for this game is 961. As each card has the same chance of winning, each of the players who bought max cards has a 96/961 chance of winning (approximately 9.99%) .The player who buys just one card, on the other hand, has a 1/961 chance of winning (approximately 0.1%). The absolute value of the prize is the same whoever wins, but the players with max cards have spent 96 times as much to enter the game as the single card player, so the relative value of the prize for the single card player is 96 times higher.
The trouble is that if 20 games in succession are played like this, each of the players who buy max cards for every game has around an 88% chance of winning at least one of them whereas the single card player only has around a 2% chance of winning anything – and in the real world, the max cards players enjoy themselves while the single card player is likely to have to wait so long to get a win that they get fed up waiting and leave in a huff long before it actually happens!
Although buying max cards can make it a lot more fun for the player by delivering more wins, it can be really quite expensive. In a 5p game, buying 96 cards costs £4.80 and since one game is played every 3-5 minutes, that can add up to a lot of money very quickly. Even penny bingo gets expensive (£10 + an hour spend) if you buy max cards.
Ways of fixing the problem
A number of measures are open to bingo sites which can improve the player experience for the modest spenders – but not all bingo sites seem particularly interested in taking them.
- Offering regular bingo rooms with a lower than normal maximum card purchase. Tombola‘s 90 ball rooms have a 24 card limit and you can only play in one of them at a time. Their 75 ball rooms have an even lower limit of 12 and their 80 ball rooms, just 4. Sun Bingo has a 90 ball room with a 12 card limit.
- Offering bingo rooms or games with a fixed number of cards per player. Microgaming run Fair & Square games several times a day and Gala Bingo run Same Chance games, both with a set purchase of 12 cards for everyone.
- Running bingo variants that are designed to have a relatively low maximum card purchase e.g. the card based bingo games Flash Fives (at Foxy Bingo and other 888 managed sites) and Cinco (at Tombola) where the maximum purchase is 5 hands, Tombola’s Rollercoaster game where it is 4 carriages and multiplayer Slingo where players have just one board each.
- Setting a maximum number of players that are allowed into a bingo room – mFortune and Tombola do this with all their rooms as a matter of course and open extra rooms to accommodate extra players, but other sites do not. The Dragonfish network does have one room that is restricted to 50 players but it is only open for one game – in the middle of the night – and has a minimum (not a maximum) card purchase of 96.
- Restricting the numbers in bingo rooms by imposing entry conditions such as the need to be at a certain level of the VIP scheme or have made a recent deposit. Although this improves the chances of winning for the players who have qualified to get into the room, to do so generally requires extra spending so players on a budget are unlikely to benefit.
- Another approach to this problem is to run multi stake bingo and again Tombola lead the way, although other sites now have multi stake games as well.
Multi stake bingo variants
In a multi stake bingo game, players have the opportunity to buy into the game at a range of stake levels. The lowest stake cards have exactly the same chance of winning as the highest stake cards, but the prize they can win is a multiple of the stake (worked out in the usual way dependent on the number of cards in play) – so if the lowest stake level were 10p and the prize £10, a stake level of £2 would have a prize of £200.
Of the multi stake variants, the one that looks most like a traditional bingo game is Tombola’s Bingo 60. Each player pays 25p, 50p, £1 or £2 and for this they get one set of 5 different sized and coloured cards which (like a strip of tickets in 90 ball) contain each number once and once only. Each size of card has its own prize and its own fixed jackpot (these are set at a multiple of stake, e.g 2000x stake for completing the red card in 25 calls). With 5 prizes to play for, this is certainly a lot of entertainment for 25p!
Other multi stake variants are rather more exotic looking.
Pulse by Tombola is a 36 ball bingo variant with a 12 number card but the numbers appear as bubbles that have to be popped. Players can have a go at doing this manually for fun but auto-daub kicks in if the player cannot keep up. Players buy in for 10p, 25p, 50p, £1, or £2 and are presented with a screen of 12 floating bubbles. Pulse also incorporates some of the other measures referred to above; it runs in multiple rooms with a cap of 90 on the number of players per room, and players are not allowed to play in more than one room at a time.
Virtue Fusion’s multi stake games Cash Cubes and Bouncy Balls are also 36 ball bingo variants. Stake levels are 10p, 50p, £1 and £2 and each player only has one 12 number set of cubes or balls equating to one card. There is one prize for full house but players also get to collect any cubes or balls they complete to be cashed in for a bonus once they have 50 of them.
All of these multi stake games have a lot going on visually and this makes them fun and interesting to play with the single card.
Other multi stake bingo games
Multi stake bingo games which allow the purchase of multiple cards do exist. In the example below from Gala’s Coconut Island 50 ball room, stake levels are 10p, 20p, 40p and 80p but since the maximum number of cards remains at the room standard of 60 and the usual card price in the room is 5p – 10p, these games (which run every 30-40 minutes) are more expensive to play than other games in the same room. Presumably the idea here is to increase the prizes for high stakes players rather than to increase the chances of winning for low stakes players.
This isn’t the only room at Gala with a multi stake option – there’s also Play It Your Way which is a multi stake version of 90 ball bingo. Other Virtue Fusion sites also occasionally run multi stake games.
Free or Superbooks?
Another feature which is commonly found at Virtue Fusion bingo sites is Free or Superbooks. This is actually a type of multi stake game as well, but interestingly the higher stakes (pay) players in a Free or Superbooks are at a disadvantage to the lower stakes (free) players.
In a Free or Superbooks game a player who is in the room just before the game starts can claim free cards up to the card purchase maximum (which varies from 36 to 120 cards depending on the site). They can then convert as many of these as they like (or none, of course) to Superbooks cards by paying (typically 5p or 10p a card). If a player wins with a Superbooks card they win a much bigger prize than they would with a free card (and usually the prize for a Superbooks card is cash but the prize for a free card is bingo bonus).
However, the Superbooks cards replace some of the player’s free cards, so the player still has the same number of cards altogether and retains exactly the same chance of winning regardless of how many cards (if any) are converted to Superbooks. Although the Superbooks players are playing for a much bigger prize, it is a finite multiple of their stake (and in the case of a fixed prize game, which most of them are, a multiple which actually goes down the more tickets they upgrade), whereas the free players have the chance of getting something for nothing (and pay no more for maximum tickets than they do for one).
A player who is NOT able to be in the room just before the game starts cannot claim any free tickets but if they wish they can use advance purchase to buy Superbooks tickets and in that case the situation is slightly different as the pay tickets would not be replacing free tickets.
Multi Stake Bingo – Our Verdict
Essentially the sort of multi stake bingo where everyone plays with just one card (or the same number of cards each) irons out the differences in variance so everyone is playing for the same size prize in relation to their stake and has the same chance of winning. Although the chance of an individual player winning still depends on the number of players in the room, this affects everyone equally. It is then up to the lower stakes players to decide which they find more entertaining. Is it the multi stake arrangement which increases their chance of winning a modest amount? Or is it playing in a regular room with a small number of tickets which decreases the chance of winning but means that if they do win it will be a big win relative to stake size? Or mixing it up with some of each?
To put it another way, if you have 50p to spend on bingo, which of these games will you play? Will you buy into the Cash Cubes game for a 1/18 chance of winning £5.80 or will you buy one card to the BingoLinx game (which could have over 22,000 other cards in play if the other 627 players all bought the maximum 36 cards) for a minuscule chance of winning some or all of the £2000? Most of us would agree that having both alternatives on offer gives players the best of both worlds!