A review of A Social, Economic and Cultural History of Bingo (1906-2005) by Caroline Downs

Reviewed by Dale Shelabarger

A Social, Economic and Cultural History of Bingo (1906-2005): The Role of Gambling in the Lives of Working Women Paperback
by Carolyn Downs
Vdm Verlag
June 2009, Paperback, 356 pages, ISBN-13: 978-3639154726

There are few games that encapsulate the human condition quite as universally as bingo. It’s a game that’s as at home in a bustling seaside resort as it is in a quiet community centre, and has a charm that has endured through the years. In “A Social, Economic and Cultural History of Bingo (1906-2005): The Role of Gambling in Society and Culture”, Carolyn Downs presents a rich and comprehensive exploration of this beloved pastime, from its humble beginnings to its undeniable place in modern society.

Downs’ work is meticulously researched and beautifully narrated, intertwining the factual with the anecdotal to paint a vivid picture of bingo’s impact on society. Her warm and engaging tone invites readers into the world of bingo, making it accessible to all, not just those already initiated in the joys of a full house.

Throughout the book, Downs deftly explores how bingo has influenced and been influenced by economic, social and cultural shifts. She illustrates how the game moved from being a simple form of entertainment in the early 20th century, to a beacon of hope during the Great Depression, to a thriving commercial enterprise in the 21st century.

The author’s exploration of bingo’s role in society is particularly striking. She probes the game’s social function, discussing how it provides a sense of community and belonging. Bingo halls, she points out, are more than just places to play a game – they are social hubs, where friendships are forged and nurtured. As such, the book is not just a history of bingo, but a reflection on human nature and our inherent need for connection.

Downs also critically examines the economic impact of bingo, highlighting the rise and fall of bingo halls, the explosion of online bingo sites, and the socio-economic factors influencing these shifts. Her insightful analysis of the business models, marketing strategies, and regulatory frameworks that have shaped the industry makes for compelling reading.

What truly stands out about Downs’ work, though, is her deep appreciation for the cultural significance of bingo. She delves into the ways in which the game has permeated popular culture, from movies and music to literature and fashion. She also reflects on the cultural diversity within the bingo community, acknowledging the game’s inclusive appeal.

“A Social, Economic and Cultural History of Bingo (1906-2005)” is a delightful and enlightening read. It’s an exploration of not just the game of bingo, but the people who play it, and the society in which they live. Downs successfully presents an academic study that is not just informative, but also deeply human, illustrating how this simple game of numbers has, in its own unique way, shaped the world.

All in all, Carolyn Downs’ book is a must-read for anyone who’s ever dabbed a bingo card, called out a winning line, or simply wondered about the enduring appeal of this timeless game. It’s an affectionate, comprehensive and fascinating journey through the history of bingo, and a testament to its cultural, social and economic influence.