TV Review from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
The programme TV Eye (31 January) "exposed" newspaper bingo games as little more than a con- trick. The formula used by the newspapers ensures that its readers who "dare" won't win a million. The 'game of chance" is one in which the overwhelming majority have no chance of winning.
Bingo has proved a stimulus for newspaper proprietors' ambitions to increase sales. They can manipulate the game in a number of ways, for example ensuring that a winning number only appears at the end of the week so that players have to buy a whole week's newspapers in order to follow the game. In fact, as Jack Lake on TV Eye showed, they have no chance of winning anyway because certain numbers appear on bingo cards but are never called; the card is invalid before the game has even begun.
The "bingo con" had previously been exposed in a local West Country free newspaper which revealed some numbers in advance. The response to this was that at least one old age pensioner phoned the newspaper begging to be told that it wasn't true, that she really did have a chance of winning the million pound jackpot because she'd been buying three or four newspapers every day.
When a newspaper decides to create a winner, all the other players have their hopes deliberately prolonged until the very last moment, when they are only waiting on perhaps one or two numbers. This is done purposely so that they are champing at the bit for the next game of bingo having been fed the belief that they have only narrowly missed the jackpot this time.
The firm which produces cards in batches of 50,000 sells the game to all of the Fleet Street rivals, only printing winning cards to order. When one newspaper recently accidentally printed one of these numbers its office was besieged by hopeful bingo addicts claiming their jackpot. One woman told of a man who had resigned from his job that morning as soon as he had crossed off the last number His hopes (and those of all the others) were dashed when it was announced that he and thousands of other bingo battlers had won £26.10.
The programme merely pointed out that it was members of the working class who played bingo but did not deal with the reasons for this. It cannot simply be that we all enjoy the "challenge" of crossing out numbers on a printed card, each number representing a hoped-for nail in the coffin of our working-class lifestyle. Most workers' dreams of wealth are pathetically unambitious — a new car. a new home, a piece of furniture, freedom from worrying about how to afford to heat their home adequately throughout the winter and a two-week package tour during their annual summer break from wage slavery. Workers are, simply, driven on to play newspaper bingo by the thought that they may no longer have to depend on a wage or salary in order to live.
TV Eye described bingo as a working class "birthright" — which just about says all that is needed about their poverty, the cynicism of the press — and about the need to organise our escape from it all.