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ONLINE BINGO About the Online Bingo Industry, Fact, History and Players.

ONLINE BINGO-About the Online Bingo Industry, Fact, History and Players.

The latest reports state that there are now over 1800 online casinos on the internet. Online Sportsbook proliferate and there seems to be a new online Poker site launching every day. One aspect of online gambling that doesnt grab the headlines, but is becoming a vibrant, growing and commercially important market is online bingo.

Online bingo? But the little old ladies who play bingo don’t have internet access, I hear you say. That may, or may not be the case, but land-based bingo is huge, and its not only played by little old ladies. In fact, there are more visits to bingo halls in USA than there are visits to the cinema. In 1999, the US bingo industry alone had a turnover of $5.1b. Add to that the fact that the rules are simple (everyone knows how to play bingo) and that most people dont even perceive it as gambling and you can see its potential. Little wonder that online bingo is growing and set to become big business.

Multi-player Bingo on the internet (as opposed to single player, Keno-Bingo) falls into three basic groups; Free Bingo, Game Sites with Bingo and Pay to Play Bingo. Free Bingo is offered by a small number of specialist sites. Game play is free and prizes are usually points or small denomination cash prizes. The operators business model is built on banner advertising sales and/or data mining. This is the same model as operated by those sites offering a range of games, one of which happens to be bingo. These sites include places like Pogo, Gamesville and the Flipside Network. The core of the industry, however, is the Pay-to-Play bingo sites.

Compared to the 1800 online casinos, the bingo market is small, but its growing quickly. There were only ten credible pay-to-play online bingo offerings in April 2000. A year later this had increased by 50%. One year later, by February 2002, this had double to 30 sites. As I write (December 2002) this figure has risen by more than 60% in less than year and the current count is at 52 sites. (All these numbers exclude white label sites and affiliates etc.).

The structure of the industry is similar to the online casino industry. Software is licensed to operators and costs are usually based on an upfront fee plus and on-going, turnover-based royalty. Up to recently the software was supplied by bingo specialists only. However, recently two of the online casino worlds big boys have entered the market. Both Boss Media and Cryptologic have commenced supplying bingo software. Again, as with the online casino market, the games come in download, Flash and Java versions, with the download option seemingly returning to favour after an up-turn in Java and Flash in the last year. All pay-to-play bingo sites offer slots games (as per their land-based cousins) but recently there has been a surge of new additional games on offer including Video Poker, Keno and other card based games.

So, whos playing these games? Weve already established that its not the little old ladies who play land-based bingo. From original research carried out at Which Bingo.com (http://www.whichbingo.com) it can be seen that the audience is predominantly female (85%), two thirds of them are aged 35 – 54, almost all of them are based in North America and over 80% of them also play land-based bingo. Interestingly 40% of online bingo players do not take part in any other type of online gambling. For those operators in the online casino market this is great news entering the bingo arena will open up new audience streams for them rather than cannibalising their existing player base. However if you really want to see what this audience looks like, pop into any bingo site. Most of them have players galleries so you can indeed see what the audience looks like.

Players galleries may be a strange concept to those used to promoting the benefits of the anonymity of online gaming. online bingo is different. One of the main reasons a player will play at one site rather than another is because their friends play there. Thats not friends from the local neighbourhood, but friends across the whole internet. The basis of this community spirit within the bingo games is the chat window. The chat window is open during the game and players interact throughout the game, creating the community atmosphere. This then brings an additional marketing tool into play; the Chat Host. Simply the Chat Host is there, in the chat room, to develop a community atmosphere and offer immediate customer support. A good Chat Host (or CM as they are known) can be the difference between an OK site and a great site. Importantly, they can also be an influencer as to whether a player returns or not.

Finally, with the cost of both recruitment and retention within the gaming market remaining competitively high, its worth looking at bingo in comparison. Taking an arbitrary day, the cost to appear in first position on Overture for the word casino is more than three times more expensive than appearing in first position for bingo. Similarly, top position for online casino is more than five times more expensive than online bingo. Added to which retention levels are much, much higher in online bingo.

Although only a brief overview of the online bingo market, suffice to say that it is a vibrant, fast-growing niche within the online gaming market and one that deserves to be looked at in more depth by anyone looking for an opportunity in online gaming.

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