Rio Bingo

Canvey Island, United Kingdom | C.1998

Photo Credit: Nico Smith

Italian lotteries in the 1530s set the early stage for the game of Bingo we know today. It evolved into the French game ‘Le Lotto’ in the 1800s and became widespread in the 1920s through traveling carnivals in the United States.

At the Rio Bingo hall in the UK, the popular game of probability – sometimes known as Housey-Housey – is a 90-ball, faster-paced low stakes gambling on a large scale with slightly different cards than their U.S. counterparts may be used to.

Owned by Majestic Bingo Limited, this hall started out as a community cinema in 1937. Open almost every day, it showed films for children on Saturdays even through World War II – which lead to some not so standard movie going experiences.

During that time, usherettes would serve ice cream and sweets in the aisles. “If they ran out because of wartime food shortages, the children would cause an uproar, and pull on the straps of the ice cream tray demanding more.” One woman attested in the Canvey Island community archives when this would occur, she resorted to “carrying a ruler on her tray and whack their hands if children tried to grab at the treats”.

When an air raid warning would sound, the projectionist would put up a slide that read, “Air raid in progress”. Patrons were given the option to leave, but the film would continue as usual, and evidently, much of the time people would choose the flick over fleeing.

After the War, the building survived the North Sea Floods, which heavily damaged the island, but cinemas around the country were still in trouble as there were simply too many for demand. The Gaming Act of 1960 opened up new possibilities for these locations, and after the last film was shown in 1976, the building was converted into a social club and ultimately a proper Bingo Hall in 1998.

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