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Will the UK smoking ban call House on bingo halls

Bingo has proven to be one of the British public's favourite pastimes for decades, with the enduring image of brightly lit halls and air thick with smoke being the first thing many people will think of when the game is mentioned. Now, however, with the smoking ban in effect across Britain, many bingo enthusiasts prefer to stay at home and play online at any one of several gambling web sites, where they can enjoy a cigarette without interrupting their game or having to go and stand outside in the cold during the winter months. Since the introduction to Scotland of the smoking ban in March 2006, ten bingo clubs have closed due to decreased revenue, with club owners across the country complaining of the smoking ban's detrimental effect on traditional bingo playing habits. Nine clubs were closed in England as a precautionary measure before the smoking ban was even brought into effect in July 2007, due to many club owners anticipating a similar slide in business once the ban was in place, with a total of 200 clubs and halls estimated to face closure. Owner's fears were well founded, as surveys revealed that 63% of smokers now played the majority of their bingo online with two million adults no longer going as regularly to bingo clubs as they did before the smoking ban was introduced While this is bad news for traditional bingo clubs and halls, online bingo sites have seen a dramatic surge in popularity and profit, with the worldwide online bingo market now estimated to be worth $40 million a year, a figure that could be multiplied tenfold if 1% of the land-based Bingo halls convert from land to online.

Huge brand names such as Virgin and Yahoo! are now associated with the online bingo market in the UK, clearly indicating just how much potential major companies see in online bingo. All of this is a far cry from the "glory days" of bingo in 2003/04, where bingo halls and clubs saw a 24% increase in revenue across the country, an occurrence that many bingo commentators say is unlikely to ever happen again due, in no small part, to the smoking ban. While smaller, independent bingo halls are suffering the most and facing multiple closures from the impact of the ban, larger operators have managed to stay afloat by introducing their own online gambling sites, which saw a 34% rise in sales last year; an action that may have to be undertaken by more and more land based bingo companies to combat the effects of the smoking ban.

An unpredictable time lies ahead for bingo companies and players alike. With the land based bingo market set to drop a further 12% over the next twelve months the bingo halls and clubs across the country are set to be a thing of the past, with online bingo not only offering an alternative for smokers across Britain but also providing a lifeline for bingo companies willing to make the jump online.

Paul McIndoe is an online, freelance journalist and keen hillwalker. He lives in Scotland with his two dogs.

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