The introduction of online bingo about a decade ago put considerable pressure on the high-street bingo industry. Dramatic changes in player behaviour forced traditional outlets to come up with new ways of appealing to customers.
As a result, the smoke-filled bingo halls of yesteryear were gradually replaced with all-purpose venues that offered additional forms of entertainment to keep the punters happy. Alongside bingo, most of the major clubs now include, at the very least, a live bar, an arcade as well as the ability to host live music and events. In spite of these changes, it seems that land-based clubs are beginning to feel the bite once more.
It was recently announced that three North East bingo halls are to close with the loss of 42 jobs. The branches, located in North Shields, Jarrow and South Shields, are part of the Beach Bingo Club chain and have been in operation for more than twenty years. However, the owners confirmed that all three will close their doors on September 30th. So is online bingo chiefly to blame for this worrying downturn for high-street bingo operators?
The introduction of the national lottery back in 1994 not to mention the 2007 smoking ban certainly didn’t help. Following the latter, many clubs reported a significant decrease in player admissions – in some cases around a third. But despite efforts to cater for died-in-the-wool smokers such as in-game breaks, profits continued to decline. Eventually, it became evident that online bingo gambling was indeed the major reason for dwindling visitor numbers.
And once again, it seems that ‘gaming-on-the-go’ is sucking the life out of traditional bingo gaming, particularly when it comes to older players. Recent reports have shown that an increasing number of over 55s now play bingo on their tablet devices. This is a key finding given the commonly-held assumption that web-based players tend to be younger. In fact, mature gamers have become far more adept and sophisticated in their use of technologies. There are a few reasons for this.
First of all, internet connectivity is faster and more widely available. Better web-based technologies and more refined approaches to game development also mean that platforms are easier to use, are far more reliable and can be accessed across all manner of devices, including mobile phones and tablets.
So the major online bingo providers can offer players a convenient, cheaper alternative to visiting their local bingo branches. They can play bingo from almost any location they wish and at a time of their choosing. And to drive engagement even further, most companies include a raft of promotions and perks to entice new registrations while rewarding existing customers. In this area especially, it’s very difficult for traditional bingo halls to compete.
Game variety may also be another reason for the high-street exodus. Some of the best online bingo providers feature a variety of variants such as 75-ball and 90-ball games. To cope with these changes, a fair number of land-based bingo chains operate their own websites: Mecca and Gala are among the most well-known operators to employ this strategy and to great effect. Although this ensures the survival of some of the larger bingo brands, the majority of smaller clubs just don’t have the necessary resources.
Notwithstanding the seemingly gloomy outlook, a few industry insiders maintain that the sector remains alive and well. In a 2016 interview with Gambling Insider, Miles Baron, chief executive of the Bingo Association was decidedly upbeat.
“The decline of bingo is grossly exaggerated. It’s been pummelled a bit and lots of things have gone against it over the last 10 or 15 years, but it’s still here. You’ve still got 800,000 people playing bingo every week. There are still 360 retail bingo clubs and then add on the holiday parks and some of the high-street arcades that also offer bingo. It’s not going away.”
However, in the four years since the above interview, the gambling industry has been presented with fresh challenges, especially in respect of gambling rules. The introduction of stricter regulations in recent months by the UK Gambling Commission, means that the entire sector both offline and off now faces some considerable hurdles.