Could bingo really move out of the smoky back rooms of decrepit church halls and onto the internet? The Daily Mail apparently thought so.
The Mail had licensed its corporate brand to an online gaming developer, before taking the site down after receiving a firestorm of criticism this Sunday from a rival over its marketing of the site – as well as enduring accusations of gross hypocrisy, in light of The Mail’s recent strident campaign against the expansion of land-based casinos in the UK.
The liberalization of UK online gaming legislation in the last year seems to have encouraged many companies, from airlines to newspapers, to set up co-branded gaming websites, and The Mail's site was actually run by Cashcade, a British gaming firm.
The Mail isn't the only one salivating over the potential of online bingo. According to estimates published by Casinocitytimes.com, the online bingo sector is poised for a major breakout, though admittedly from a rather small base - the Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC) claims that online bingo games generated wins of £72 million last year, and within the next five years will be worth an estimated £164 million.
Bingo has always been treated as something of a softy by authorities, primarily because the nature of the game itself makes it difficult to gamble away the family nest egg, but also because of its association with grannies and charities. Recent developments in EU case law also should make it increasingly difficult for countries to prohibit the kind of soft gaming epitomized by bingo, as courts and regulatory agencies generally see little social harm in a game many consider, well, harmless. Perhaps the game's enormous popularity with the blue-haired set gives it an air quasi-respectability not found in hard gaming, such as slots or roulette.
Not everyone sees it that way, however. This spitting match between The Observer and The Mail also concerned allegations that bingo as practiced by The Mail /Cashcade site could function as a “gateway drug” of sorts for other sites or games run by Cashcade, particularly for hardcore gamblers. As The Observer breathlessly claimed, “the discovery prompted a rushed statement from Cashcade, the firm which runs MailBingo.com, that it would rectify the omission. 'We are grateful that the absence of player protection references on this site has been brought to our attention. This was an oversight which has been immediately corrected.'” Whether or not The Observer and the angry religious leaders alluded to in the article are correct in the recklessness of its media rival, bingo is clearly on the rise.
The smoking ban for one in the UK has also been a boon to the fledgling industry. Ladbrokes apparently saw a 40 per cent jump in online bingo play after the ban went into effect. The high growth rate in the industry has started to draw real interest from a sector not exactly averse to risk - gaming media company BulletBusiness.com has an entire conference on the blistering growth of online bingo on its upcoming calendar. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) Placanica case, which requires a close correlation between social risk and regulation, could also facilitate growth in bingo-style soft gaming.
Of course, as The Observer noted, the seductive nature of bingo has raised concerns of its own, even among church groups that have themselves profited from the game. As noted above, bingo typically is considered "soft gaming" as opposed to "hard gaming", such as roulette or craps. Because of the nature of the game itself, in which a player can only pay attention to so many bingo cards at once, it's generally considered impossible to bet the farm on bingo. Of course, in theory, one could pay so much for an individual card to make that a possibility, but that is not the tradition of the game. High stakes bingo remains a matter of conjecture.
The generally permissive attitude of authorities has made bingo commonplace, and it has migrated online. As history has shown with porn and other forms of internet gambling, whenever such an online shift occurs media hysteria is sure to follow. The Observer's lambasting this past Sunday of The Daily Mail for failing to protect British youth - save the children! - from the naughty delights of The Mail's online bingo site, MailBingo.com, is a case in point. The site since then appears to have been taken down.
The Mail took the lead in slamming the expansion of Vegas-style casinos in Britain, while profiting from an allegedly shoddy online gambling site of its own. Apparently, children are not the only ones seduced by online bingo.®
Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office