What Do Bingo, Bowie and Madonna All Have in Common? Reinvention

Madonna” (CC BY 2.0) by iShot71

It might sound like an unlikely trio. After all, there might be a rumour going around that there’s nothing Mick Jagger likes more than a good game of bingo. But it’s hard to imagine the Thin White Duke or Madonna ever settling down to a quiet game with their dibber at the ready.

But this isn’t what we’re saying at all. It’s simply making the point that all three have ensured their longevity by changing their image over time. For Bowie, he went from being a glam rock pioneer to a suit-wearing soul boy and finally ended as an elder statesman of music. As for Madonna, she’s had countless manifestations including Studio 54-style voguer to English country landowner enjoying a few pints of ale in her local pub.

For bingo, it has been a long and eventful evolution since it first caught the public’s imagination back in 1930s America and went on to be played in halls all over the world. From the late 1970s and early 1980s, these gradually started to lose popularity, but the arrival of online bingo towards the turn of the millennium gave the game the shot in the arm it badly needed. It’s a lesson that many in business could learn from.

Slots + Bingo = Slingo

This introduced many new ways to play the game including a whole new version called Slingo Bingo which is featured on sites like  Essentially, this is a combination of online bingo and slot games that are also incredibly popular with players on the sites.

So, rather than the numbers being selected one by one, they appear on spinning reels and the idea is to match them with the ones on the player’s card. To add an extra element of fun and playability, many of these slingo bingo games are themed either based on popular slots titles or even on hit TV shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? or Deal or No Deal. This also gives the games a chance to include special rounds and extra bonuses which make them even more involving and fun to play.

Bingo’s no drag

tuesday-night-silver-city-mariam-033” (CC BY 2.0) by lukas476

Another milestone in the history of bingo, and one which also helped to revive the game’s fortunes when it was losing popularity, was the arrival of drag bingo. This phenomenon had its origins in the the early 1990s when Judy Werle, a fundraiser for a Californian charity called the Chicken Soup Brigade, hit upon the idea of bingo as a way to generate donations. The twist was that the callers would be drag queens whose flamboyant style would liven up the game and make it even more fun to play.

For the first of these events, Werle enlisted the help of a group of cross-dressing and trans nuns called The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence whose fundraising efforts still go on today, as publicized at It seemed that she had hit on a winning idea with people queueing round the block to play at the first of these events.

Soon the game spread across the States and beyond with its combination of bingo, glitz and camp proving irresistible to many people. It even inspired the documentary filmmaker Glenn Holsten to make a movie called Gay Bingo that was released in 2001.

Party, party

Many of the elements that made drag bingo so popular are also key to one of the latest ways that the game has reinvented itself.

In the last few years, the concept of club bingo nights has really taken off. Not in the old-style halls but in nightclubs where there’s a heady mix of dance-offs, talent contests and, of course, bingo.  It’s a concept that originated in a club in Liverpool, England, and was the brainchild of a couple of promoters looking to boost business and whose story you’ll find at It’s probably the fact that, at its heart, bingo is such a simple game that allows all these variations to take off by giving a solid foundation that other events can be built around. So, just as we can probably expect Madonna to make another surprising comeback sometime soon, bingo’s next move is also undoubtedly on the way.

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