‘the (great) god Bingo’: meaning and early occurrences

First recorded in 1936, the noun bingo designates a game, often played in public halls, etc., for prizes, in which players mark off numbers on cards as the numbers are drawn randomly by a caller, the winner being the first person to mark off all their numbers.

The satirical phrase the (great) god Bingo refers to the addiction to that game.

These are the earliest occurrences of the phrase that I have found, in chronological order:

1-: From Miami’s Own Whirligig: News Behind The News, published in the Miami Daily News (Miami, Florida, USA) of Friday 28th October 1938:

BINGO—The great god Bingo is to spread his wings in the Merry-Go-Round, Dade’s most pretentious gambling establishment, as the operators try to make some real profits from the dice, roulette, cards, money wheels, chuck-a-luck and horserace booking. The fates of the establishment apparently have been led successfully through official reefs, but there’s plenty of trouble ahead, according to the boys who plan to make the trouble. The man blamed for the previous injunctive proceedings against the “big joint” swears he did not do it, but admits he was planning to when some one else beat him to it. He’s still of the same mind. Meanwhile, peace reigns in the Broward county underworld, while its members fatten off Dade’s comparative inactivity.

2-: From the Cheshire Observer (Chester, Cheshire, England) of Saturday 16th December 1961:

THE GREAT GOD ‘BINGO’
or
“Housewife’s Choice”

I have the clothes to wash and mend,
The towels, shirts and undies.
After “The Palais” at weekend
I feel so fagged on Mondays.
But now the Bingo cards are out,
So let’s forget our trouble:
A single line wins fifty bob,
A full house may win double!

Young Bobby’s playing in the street;
I don’t know where he gets to.
But still, the lad deserves a treat,
Alone at home he frets so.
“Top of the shop” and “Kelly’s eye”,
“Clickety-click”, “Blind thirty”;
My goodness! How the time flies by,
There’ll be no meal for Bertie!

The Vicar, once so mild and meek
Gives me a look quite baleful;
I think I’ll go to church next week,
I like “Come all ye faithful!”
But dear, there simply isn’t time
For church as well as Bingo.
Who shouted “House”? That’s my last dime,
I’ve spent the rent, by Jingo!

The Telly payment’s overdue—
Must keep up with the Joneses!
They have a “fridge”; lawn-mower too,
(I wonder if he loans his?).
The kids will get no presents now,
My fags I’ll have to borrow,
But if Bert saves his dole somehow.
Well—Better luck tomorrow!

The “gods of chance” look down and grin
As greed o’er comes each warning.
Still there’ll be no room at the inn
For Christ this Christmas morning;
And still today the innocents
Are slain, neglected, ravished
Because our love and good intent
On “gods of chance” are lavished.

RONALD F. PALMER
27, Queen’s-crescent,
Upton Heath,
Chester.

Note: Published in The Daily Free Press (Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada) of Tuesday 25th July 1961, the following by Eddy Gilmore shows that the above-quoted poem does indeed reflect reality:

London (AP)—“Bingo,” said Rev. Cyril Blount as he faced 400 hundred enthusiastic bingo fans, “is a greater sin than sex immorality.”
[…]
“Bingo,” said Mr. Blount, “is a great sin because it’s the worship of a false god—and an expression of greed.”
Ignoring a chorus of derisive “boos,” the minister drove home his point by saying he knew of a wife and mother who—after playing bingo—had only nine pennies (ten cents) left from her housekeeping money to buy food.

3-: From Kent customers don’t get value for money . . ., by Jimmy Hodge Jr., published in The Stage and Television Today (London, England) of Thursday 6th March 1969:

Bingo, of course is still a big puller but—and this is an important factor from an artist’s point of view—there is less grumbling and dashing off to well hidden bars when “cabaret time” is announced.

GREAT GOD BINGO

In fact I have noticed that in some clubs there is almost a desire to reach the “eyes up” session after the “eyes down” one! A remarkable change when one realises that just a couple of years ago woe betide those who intruded upon the God Bingo . . .

4-: From an article on Crewe, by Leslie Radcliffe, published in the magazine Cheshire Life of February 1971—as quoted in the Crewe Chronicle (Crewe, Cheshire, England) of Thursday 25th February 1971:

Mr. Radcliffe was of the opinion that Crewe citizens worshipped “with mystical devotion at the shrine of the Great God Bingo.”

 

Joan Martin concentrates—photograph illustrating Bingo! The dangerous game that eats people alive, an article by David Staples about the addiction to bingo in Edmonton, published in The Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) of Sunday 11th August 1985:

Joan Martin concentrates - The Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) - 11 August 1985