Superstitious Scotland and Bingo: A match made in heaven, but is it built to last?

As we all know, Scotland is the birthplace for many of the most infamous superstitions in the UK. Home of folklore, myths, legends, and superstitions, it can seem as though superstitious beliefs are a part of everyday life, even in the most modern parts of Glasgow. But it’s this ingrained acceptance of superstition which has allowed a once staple of Great Britain to continue to thrive: bingo.

Despite the well-publicised collapse of bingo across the UK, Glasgow remains a bastion of land-based bingo. Its golden days were certainly in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, to a certain extent, but it experienced an alarming downward trend from the ’90s onwards. Despite this, Glasgow has held strong, continuing to boast some of the busiest bingo halls in the UK. Glasgow’s buzzing bingo scene has been put down to those who have been playing since the ’60s mostly staying in the same house for generations, keeping bingo halls buoyant in the area. Other major cities where bingo venues were once popular, such as Edinburgh, have seen new housing development move bingo regulars towards the outskirts of their cities and away from the bingo locations.

While experts highlight some kickback from the falling in-house bingo industry, for the most part, Glasgow is the last major land-based bingo hub in the UK. But is that going to change? The same popular trends which have uprooted bingo across the UK could have an impact on Scotland’s bingo stronghold.

Superstition spurring bingo’s popularity

Many farmers in the north of Scotland believe that the birth of a black-faced sheep ushers a wave of bad luck for the entire flock. This Scottish superstition led to the saying ‘black sheep of the family.’

Scotland and Glasgow are well-known for their historic locations, such as St Mungo’s Cathedral and Necropolis, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the notorious West End. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a place steeped in history embraces superstition. A lot of superstition and folklore was spawned centuries ago and has been passed down through the generations. The most famous of those in Scotland is, of course, the legend of Loch Ness, which has become a globally-known tourist spot for those seeking the creature. Many of Scotland’s superstitions have escaped the north to spread around the UK.

There’s the superstition that a black-faced sheep being born will bring bad luck to the entire flock, which spawned the saying ‘black sheep of the family.’ When a baby is born, putting silver in its hand is said to bring them wealth in later life, and touching iron is a must if anyone sees or hears evil. Other ways of getting good luck include a bride having a silver coin in her shoe or a baby born on the first day of the month. Scotland is so superstitious, in fact, that many say that the nation invented the tradition of Halloween, with apple bobbing harking back to the druid times.

Regardless of how modern the cities are becoming, Scotland continues to fully embrace superstition, which may be why bingo halls have remained so popular in Glasgow. If you’ve got a lucky charm, have had a good spell of luck, or have a good feeling about your lucky numbers, you’re naturally inclined to test your luck in one of the many popular bingo halls if those venues are still close by.

The downward spiral of bingo halls in the UK

Dying are the ways of old bingo halls, with people seeking new ways to play the game across the UK.

The current popular form of bingo, 90-ball, began to rise in fame around World War I but was only used for recreational or fundraising purposes. But in 1960, with the Betting and Gaming Act, bingo became a legal form of gambling, greatly increasing its popularity throughout the UK. Just three years on from the enactment of the 1960 statute, 14 people were members of bingo clubs. By the backend of the ’80s, 1600 bingo venues stood in the UK.

In 1994, however, the National Lottery launched, ushering in a 21 per cent tumble of bingo halls. A second gut punch to land-based bingo came in 2006 with the smoking bans, forcing smoking bingo players to step outside to have a cigarette. Smoking was very popular at the time, especially with the older crowd, with some estimating that close to 90 per cent of bingo players were smokers. Despite the smoking ban, millions still attended bingo halls regularly but increased adoption of the internet as time passed also resulted in fewer bingo clubs being patronised.

Can bingo halls hold on in Glasgow?

A picture of modern Glasgow. Can an old game like bingo continue to survive in the modern world while confined to halls and venues?

In-house bingo remains a popular activity in Glasgow despite its overall decline as people seek convenient and exciting experiences outside of the house. Bingo has continued to be a top pick in the city due to many of its long-standing players remaining local, the luck-related nature of its play, and the established embrace of the superstitious in Scotland. Initially, the rise of the internet was to the detriment of many land-based gaming venues, including bingo halls. While live bingo isn’t anywhere near the behemoth it once was, it could be seen as experiencing a small revival in some parts of the UK due to it teaming up with an online offering.

Bingo was a very slow starter when it comes to moving online. Only recently have big bingo brands truly started to utilise the internet as a way to both offer their games online as well as promote their halls for those who are local and fancy some live play. That said, the sheer convenience, availability, selection of games, and range of bingo promotions such as daily challenges and jackpot games can greatly outweigh the offering of bingo halls – especially as it can all be enjoyed from home. Promotions like bonus cash for new players, prizes for succeeding in specialised digital bingo and slot games, and reward schemes all help to enhance online bingo’s appeal over land-based bingo.

Land-based bingo may never reach the level of popularity it once enjoyed across the UK, but the Glasgow bingo clubs appear to be holding firm due to them remaining convenient and enjoyable to the local crowd. An ingrained sense of superstition certainly helps to keep people interested in the game, with the superstitious always looking to test their luck or cash-in on a spell of good luck. Now that bingo has taken root online, there will undoubtedly be some people who turn to the online offering if they fancy a quick game as they’re feeling lucky.

The defining moment for the Glasgow bingo scene may be when the local audience who have been playing for decades move on; then, we’ll see if the next generation will to continue to play live bingo. Most would argue that superstitious millennials seeking some bingo action wouldn’t be able to resist the convenience of playing online, but if the superstitious nature of Scotland is as strong as it appears, the venue itself may be considered when gauging luck. After all, it can’t just be people who were playing bingo in the ’60s who are still rubbing their lucky coin while dotting numbers at the bingo clubs of Glasgow.