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Chapter 4: How to Host a Virtual Bingo Night
Life is crazy at the best of times but 2020 has taken things to another level—the icing on an utterly bizarre cake. With all the uncertainty, there’s a good chance many of you will have sacrificed your usual weekend amusements for an evening spent watching TV, eating fast food, and arguing with your cat.
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But just because you’re stuck at home, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself with friends.
Virtual bingo nights are a great way to have some fun with your nearest and dearest. They’re cheap, they’re easy, and any adults (18+) can get involved. More importantly, you don’t need to leave the house and can simulate all the joys of a bingo hall over a live connection.
A virtual bingo night works just like the real thing. You get your friends together, create some tickets, and then someone assumes the role of the bingo caller. It’s as easy as that, and in just 4 steps you could be hosting your very own event.
At a glance..
1st Step: Video Conferencing
The first step is to find a place for your friends to gather—the virtual equivalent of the bingo hall.Video conferencing software is tailormade for moments like this and unless your friends are technophobes using CRT TVs and brick phones from the early 2000s, they have everything they need.
The following video conferencing programs can be accessed on your phone, desktop, and even your TV. All participants will need a webcam and/or microphone, but there are no subscription charges or other fees to worry about, although some of these apps will limit your call time if you are not a fee-paying customer.
We're writing this guide assuming you have unlimited data on a wifi connection. If you don't, do be careful with the following apps as they may use large quantities of your data allowance.
Zoom (Limited options for free)
Zoom has become the conferencing software of choice during 2020, with daily user numbers rising from 10 million to 300 million in just 3 months.
Favoured by companies and remote workers alike, Zoom was even used by the UK government!
You can add up to 100 users in a single call and Zoom works on most devices and platforms. It’s free to use (albeit with call limits) and you can even create custom backgrounds!
Skype (Limited options for free)
As popular as Zoom is, Skype remains the tool of choice for most non-business users. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s available on most devices (including Smart TVs, phones, tablets, and Xbox).
There’s a good chance you and your friends already have Skype accounts, which is ideal if you’re inviting people who are scared of change or technology in general (there’s always one!).
You can add up to 50 users per call and with Skype for Web, you don’t even need to download the software.
Houseparty (Totally Free)
Houseparty is a conferencing program that’s also available as a browser extension and a macOS app. You can invite up to 8 people into a single room and its Facebook and Snapchat integration makes it easy to add friends from existing social networks.
Although it’s relatively new, Houseparty is owned by Epic Games, an established and respected company responsible for a few smash-hit video games.
Facetime (Totally Free)
iPhone and Mac users have a built-in tool that’s perfect for video conferencing: Facetime. Just click the “+” symbol to invite friends and you can create a 32-person group that doesn’t have a time limit or a charge.
Of course, you will be excluding Android and Windows users, so make sure your friends can join before choosing this option.
Facebook Messenger Rooms (Totally Free)
Facebook Messenger’s video chat options were a little problematic when they first launched, with many users complaining of broken connections and lag. Groups were also limited to just 8 users. But then Facebook Messenger Rooms came along and changed the game.
Often touted as a free and more accessible version of Zoom, Facebook Messenger Rooms lets you add up to 50 users and is available completely free of charge.
Google Hangouts (Totally Free)
If you have a Gmail account, you already have access to Hangouts. This free-to-use conferencing software works through Chrome or Android and can be used to connect with up to 25 users.
Hangouts has full HD calls and conferencing and also has built-in screen sharing functions. It’s a great option for forgetful friends, as it will automatically add the event to a user’s calendar app.
Uberconference (Limited options for free)
A simple service with a great free plan, Uberconference has HD streams and audio, screen sharing functions, and it can be accessed on mobile and desktop. Just create a room, invite your friends, and they’ll be given a link and a phone number, allowing them to connect via webcam or phone.
2nd Step: Create the Tickets
Every participant in your virtual bingo night needs a bingo ticket. Firstly, you should choose how many numbers to play, with most bingo games opting for a range of 1 to 75 or 1 to 90. You can then use random number generators to create tickets for each user.
For a fully customised experience, you can do this yourself, creating a random set of numbers off the top of your head or using a random number generator. 5 numbers will suffice if you want a simple game but the tickets can be as big as you want them to be
We recommend creating lots of tickets beforehand and then taking snapshots of each of them. You can send them to players before a game begins and once that game ends, you can repeat the process with another set of tickets.
There are multiple apps and websites that can help you to create and print bingo tickets, including this one and this one.
Downloadable Bingo Cards and Caller Grid
We've included direct access to some freely available, downloadable bingo cards from MyFreeBingoCards.com to get you started, the PDF also includes a bingo callers grid (90 ball).
3rd Step: Choose a Bingo Caller/Software
Automated bingo calling apps are available in both the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. But these can suck the life out of the game. If you want to create a virtual bingo night to remember, we recommend one of the following, alternative options:
- Take Turns: Every game, one of the players is assigned to the role of bingo caller. They do not participate in that game and pass the buck when it is over. Random number generators (RNGs) can be used to randomise the numbers. We suggest you use Google's random number generator, set the 'min' to 2 and the 'max' to 90, for 90 ball bingo!
- Winner Stays On: The winner of each game becomes the caller for the next, which means they can’t win consecutive gamers, thus giving everyone else a chance. The first game can be called by the last person to join, or by any other method you choose!
- Funny and Trustworthy: Choose the funniest and most trustworthy person to call the numbers for each game, letting them participate while they call.
- Video: Youtube is full of bingo videos. Search for the term “bingo caller” followed by the number of balls you’re using and ask all players to watch the video.
Screen sharing is a very useful feature here. It allows one player to share his or her screen with everyone else in the room. If that player is the bingo caller, they can share their screen to show the numbers and prove they are playing fair. They can also host a bingo caller video and show this to every other player—pausing, stopping, and playing as needed.
How to avoid calling the same numbers?
If the bingo caller is not using an app which ensures no repetition of calls, we suggest they create a grid containing all of the numbers in the game i.e. 1 - 90 for 90 ball bingo. The caller can then mark the numbers on the grid to avoid repetition as he calls.
The method above is particularly useful if using an RNG which may produce already called numbers from time to time.
4th Step: Play!
Once you have chosen the conferencing software, prepared the tickets, and invited your friends, there’s only one thing left to do: Play!
Schedule a time that suits everyone, send reminders, and start playing.
The bingo caller simply calls a number and if a player has a matching number on their card, they mark it. When all numbers have been marked, that player shouts “Bingo!” and once their card is checked, they are declared the winner.
Congratulate them, give them a prize (optional), and, if you have time, move onto the next game!
Here are a few tips to ensure each game runs smoothly:
- Make sure everyone can hear the caller.
- Don’t call the numbers too quickly.
- Periodically check that no one has disconnected.
- Remember to keep track of all called numbers, as these will be needed to confirm the result.
- Provide a specific timeframe for your virtual bingo night, so that everyone knows when it will end.
- Account for time zone differences if you’re playing with friends who live overseas.
What About Prizes?
A virtual bingo night is a great way to bring friends together and that should be enough of an incentive. However, if you’re going up against frequent bingo players, you may need to incentivise them, and that’s where the prizes come in.
Here are a few ideas for virtual bingo night prizes:
- Charities and Fundraisers
Virtual bingo nights are a great way to raise some money for a good cause. Simply charge your players a fee for each ticket they buy and make sure the proceeds go to charity. They’ll have an incentive to play and they can do so safe in the knowledge that the proceeds will go to a good cause!
You can’t collect cash with a virtual bingo night, but many online payment methods are just as quick and easy. Simply provide each player with the payment details, reserve some cash for the prize, and give the rest to your chosen charity:
- PayPal: There are over 325 million PayPal accounts worldwide, a large number of which are registered here in the UK. Many of your friends will already have accounts and the ones that don’t can sign-up for free. PayPal is safe, secure, fast, and easy-to-use. Once you have a PayPal account, you can transfer money to another user with a debit/credit card or bank account. That money can then be transferred from wallet to wallet and most charities accept PayPal donations.
- Apple Pay: A handy way to send money through Mac computers and devices. You’ll need access to iMessage and can send money quickly and without charge. However, it’s not available for Android and Windows users, so make sure your friends are hooked into the Apple ecosystem before you choose this option.
- Monzo: A digital UK bank that makes it easy to send money to friends. With Monzo, you can create pots that other users can contribute to, making this an ideal choice for your virtual bingo night.
- Barclays Pingit: Although Pingit is a Barclays service, you don’t need to bank with this provider to use it. As long as you have a mobile number and the Pingit app, you can send and receive money.
- Skrill/Neteller: Often seen as “PayPal alternatives”, these UK-based services are worthy payment solutions in their own right. These days they are both owned by the same company and offer many of the same features and benefits as PayPal.
2. Forfeits and Favours
Add some spice to your bingo night by asking the losers to do favours for the winner. They can promise to mow the winner’s lawn, clean their house/car, drive them to the airport, etc.
You’re essentially giving each player carte blanche to state what they want the others to do when they win. It adds an extra dimension to the game and should make the night more tense and exciting.
3. Drinks and Food
Friends eat and drink together, so why not have the losers buy the winner free drinks and/or food? You can play multiple games and state that the overall winner is owed a slap-up meal by the losers. Alternatively, you can reward a drink for every game.
Not only can this inject some extra thrills into the night itself, but it’ll also give you an excuse to meet-up as a group and start cashing-in those rewards!
4. Secret (Bingo) Santa
No one really likes a workplace Secret Santa, let’s be honest, but with a group of friends and a modest spending allowance, it can yield some hilarious and brilliant results. So, instead of building a cash prize or offering drinks, food, and forfeits, ask everyone to contribute a prize.
The winner can collect their prize the next time everyone meets or it can be delivered digitally in the form of gift cards and subscriptions.
5. A Trophy
Turn your virtual bingo night into a memorable occasion by commissioning a small trophy. As outlandish and over-the-top as this sounds, it’s actually very easy and relatively cheap to purchase a custom trophy.
For less than £10 you can purchase a simple bingo trophy inscribed with a custom message. It’s a great incentive to make your virtual bingo night a regular occurrence, as the trophy can move from winner to winner, giving them something to display on their mantelpiece, as well as a week’s worth of bragging rights.
A trophy can be used with one of the aforementioned prizes but it’s also a worthy prize on its own.
The Legality of Virtual Bingo Nights
There are a few rules governing virtual bingo nights in the UK, and they get pretty strict when money is exchanged -our advice is to simply avoid using money! However, if you do wish to involve money, it’s important to understand these rules before hosting such an event:
- Participation cannot exceed £8 per person per event/day.
- Prizes must not exceed £600 total.
- Proceeds must not be used for private gain and must be given to a good cause.
- The event must be hosted in a private home.
Visit this page for more information about the legalities of hosting a bingo night.
Virtual bingo nights are easy to arrange and can provide hours of fun for you and your friends! Thanks to this Bingo Games guide, you now have all the info you need to arrange one of these nights for yourself, but if you still have a few questions about this game and these nights, take a look at our FAQs below.
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IsVideo Conferencing Safe?
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Video conferencing apps have come under a lot of scrutiny in recent months, with suggestions that they may not be as safe as people think. However, if you stick with the main providers (outlined in this guide) and follow their safety protocols to the letter, you shouldn’t have any issues.
How Much Should I Charge?
It’s entirely up to you - we suggest you don't play for money. Whatever you do, just make sure you stay within the legal guidelines mentioned above.
This game should be about having fun and letting loose, and if there’s money on the line, that light-hearted fun could be replaced by frustration and anxiety.
How Long Does the Average Bingo Game Take?
It takes just 10 minutes, on average, to complete a game of virtual bingo. However, it all depends on how many players there are, how many balls are being drawn, and what the conditions of victory are.
Generally, if you have an hour allotted for the event, you should plan for 4 to 5 games, with the extra time spent on chatting, arranging, and checking.
How Should I Dress for Virtual Bingo
Bingo hall dress codes are not as strict as those found in upmarket casinos and it’s even less strict if you’re hosting a virtual bingo night with friends.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own dress code!
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If some of your friends are not that familiar with one another, put them at ease with a strict pyjama-only dress code, or host a 80s/90s themed night. The choice is yours!
How Can You Make Virtual Bingo Fun?
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Bingo is a fun game, and it’s even better when you’re playing it with friends. Throw a charity fundraiser, some jokes, and a prize or two into the mix and you have all the makings of a fantastic night that no one will forget in a hurry!
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How Can I Make Bingo More Interesting?
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Bingo is more than capable of keeping your friends interested throughout the night, but if you’re planning a long evening with non-bingo players, consider beefing-up the schedule with some trivia. You can’t go wrong with a short pub quiz between rounds of bingo.
What do you Shout at Bingo?
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Traditionally, you shout, “Bingo!”, but with virtual bingo nights, you create the rules and you can shout whatever you want. Why not add a little twist to the proceedings by insisting that players shout something weird, taboo, long-winded, or hard to remember? If nothing else, it will make for some hilariously hesitant moments as the game climaxes.