Occasionally, something ends up closely associated with the Church that has no connection to our beliefs, our theology, or our religious mission. These things take on the characteristics of a tradition (with a small “t”), and start to seem like a Catholic thing, when they’re really just accidents of history.
One primary example of this is the game of Bingo. A form of legalized gambling, Bingo is so popular a means of fund-raising at Catholic parishes and schools that it’s been jokingly called the 8th sacrament. I should state up front that although the Church has no objection to gambling as entertainment as long as it’s in moderation and not exploitative, many Catholic bishops discourage Bingo as a fundraiser, in favor of fund raising based more on models of stewardship.
But where did Bingo come from? According to Wikipedia, Bingo’s origins can be traced to a lottery game called “Lo Giuoco Code Loto” in Italy in 1530. Within 300 years, versions were played in France and Germany, sometimes used as a teaching tool for vocabulary and multiplication tables.
At a carnival near Atlanta in 1929, a version called Beano was played with dried beans. Edwin Lowe observed the games popularity, and took the game to New York where he played it with his friends. It was there that someone first yelled “Bingo” instead of “Beano,” and the game was renamed.
Perhaps it’s the social nature of Bingo that separates it from other forms of gambling, and their associations with shady characters in smoky back rooms. Generally played for small stakes, Bingo is accessible to nearly everyone. These may be some of the reasons it became a popular means of fundraising for Churches, volunteer fire departments, and other community organizations.
So there’s nothing inherently Catholic about Bingo. And as people become more aware of the social costs of gambling, it may become less popular as a church fundraiser.