Bingo halls struggle to get a full house: Industry leaders blame unfair tax for game's decline

The number of clubs has dropped from nearly 600 in 2005 to fewer than 400 today

As any seasoned player will tell you, winning streaks can last only so long. Until recently, the bingo halls of Britain were buzzing with the optimism of an industry that had all but cemented its place as a national institution. But the popular numbers game, which even inspired a vocabulary all of its own, has fallen on hard times.

Bingo industry leaders are warning that the game is in a major decline, and tomorrow will call on Chancellor George Osborne to cut the "unfair bingo tax" they claim is holding the industry back from recovery. They complain that despite it being one of the softest forms of gambling, it has one of the punitive tax regimes and cannot recover VAT on capital investment.

The number of bingo clubs has dropped from nearly 600 in 2005 to fewer than 400 today. Though the industry still employs 12,500 people, 6,500 jobs have been lost in the past decade. Even more worryingly, the people's love affair with the bingo ticket and the dabber pen appears to be on the wane, with visits down from 80 million in 2005, to 43 million today. In 2007, the game was hit particularly hard by the smoking ban. Since then it rallied with a fresh focus on younger players, and many halls were transformed to create an atmosphere that owed more to pub culture than the traditional "eyes down, look in" approach beloved of bingo's diehard players.

But these modest gains are falling away, with the post-recession squeeze on people with low incomes leading to fewer treating themselves to a visit – a decline that was compounded last year by unusually good summer weather. Last year, 17 bingo clubs shut their doors for good. Only one opened.

The Bingo Association's chief executive, Miles Baron, has said that clubs' best hope of securing their future will be for the Government to cut the tax on bingo from 20 per cent of profits to 15 per cent. "Reducing the tax on bingo will enable clubs to invest in their future and continue to serve their local areas," he said.

"More investment means more jobs and thriving communities. New club development has dried up." But companies have pledged to reinvest tens of millions in modernising venues and opening new ones if the tax burden is reduced, he added.

Brian Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on bingo, who occasionally takes up the dabber pen himself, called the levies on the game "crazy".

"Of all forms of gambling, bingo is the most socially welcomed," he said. "I say that because I go once a year to my own local bingo centre and I see many people, many of them elderly, who find comfort and friendship – a hot meal at a low price in a warm and happy environment. And if that isn't social services, I don't know what is."

The campaign has been boosted by new research which shows most people in Britain (61 per cent) agree with Mr Binley, that bingo provides an important community service by bringing people together. The ComRes poll of more than 2,000 adults also found that, although bingo players are predominately women in their late forties and fifties, support for the game's future is strongest in the 18-24 age group.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam