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Has The Smoking Ban Made Bingo Halls Go Up In Smoke?

Sep 5, 2008
The image of the smoke filled bingo hall filled with pensioners murmuring their approval at the George Formby style saucy banter of the announcer is truly dead. Last July the government brought in the controversial no smoking in enclosed areas legislation that would have one of the largest affects on English culture since the closing of the mines.

There were genuine fears from the Bingo industry before the ban was put in place because it was estimated that 40 percent of people playing bingo were smokers. Last year it was estimated that three million play bingo in bingo halls across the UK each year and it accumulates billions of pounds in steak money and bingo bosses predicted that a sharp fall in attendances would leave them high and dry.

The predicted drop in attendance was not the only worry. Even those smoking patrons who still braved the smoking ban would need to smoke during the interval. The issue here was that an estimated 40 percent of the turnover of some bingo halls came from cash games which are much faster games that were played during the interval. These games would see a considerable loss as smoking patrons would now spending the interval outside as opposed to spending on the fast bingo.

When looking at Mecca Bingo statistics on the Rank Plc website which owns Mecca bingo we can see that by February 2008 the number of bingo halls operating in the UK were down to 616, the lowest in ten years and down from 644 in 2007. Gala Bingo in the gala coral first half interim report, admit to closing eight bingo clubs and state that they are still monitoring the size of their estate. They claim the downturn is caused by the smoking ban and lack of government action.

Realistically bingos could never be exempt from the smoking ban as this would cause members only clubs and public houses that have been adversely affected by the ban to strongly petition for exclusion. The bingo giants are fighting back and have gone some way to revamping the image of bingo by multiple celebrity endorsements.

The major celebrity endorsement has been by Sharon Osborne for Gala Bingo to try and change the geriatric face of bingo. From the website Bingo Celebrities, it is claimed that Denise Van Outen, Robbie Willams, Katie Price, Katherine Zeta Jones and Kerry Katona are also avid bingo fanatics. Although I could not imagine bumping into Robbie Williams at the local Scunthorpe Mecca Bingo hall.

The smoking ban has certainly affected the bingo industry to a certain degree however it is not the only factor. The massive success of online bingo games and the new taxations by the government are also to blame. Online bingo has offered an easy alternative to the traditional format, being able to play when and where you want.

Some traditionalists from the world of bingo believe that the growing online bingo culture defies one of the major elements of bingo, the social interaction. A midweek trip to the bingo is the only social interaction that many people get and with scores of halls closed this year alone it is leaving many of the most isolated people in society without an outlet.
The bingo giants are not generally concerned with this as they are really only looking at the figures. Their corporate responsibility ends with following the gambling responsibly guidelines and not with creating social clubs for the vulnerable. They are focussing on the younger market and most of their advertising is channelled in that direction, in some areas they are offering fully automated games meaning that younger people do not have to worry about monitoring numbers.

The smoking ban has not hit the bingo industry as hard as it has hit other industries such as the pub industry. It is estimated that 57 pubs are closing permanently every month in the UK due to the smoking ban and continuing taxation on alcohol. Although the bingo industry has taken a dent it seems like they a planning ahead and it will take a couple of years to recover
About the Author
Dominic Donaldson is an expert on bingo and writes on the sociological impact of the resurgence of bingo.
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