Bingo Rules and Etiquette

What happens when somebody gets the bingo card pattern? The customary way to announce that you've won is simply to yell "Bingo!" loud enough for the caller to hear. Once bingo is called, an assistant (sometimes called a floor walker) will come to the table right away to verify the bingo.

The floor walker will call out the winning numbers for the caller to verify or, in fancier setups, will simply call out an identification number on the card, which the caller punches into a computer that automatically verifies or rejects the bingo. Depending on where you play, the winning bingo card may be posted for the remainder of the night so other players can inspect it. Disputes are not that common -- either you bingo or you don't -- but when discrepancies pop up, the bingo manager usually has the final say.


If two people call bingo on the same number, the jackpot is split evenly between them. Likewise, if three people call it, the house divides the pot three ways.

Common Rules

Since no two bingo halls operate exactly the same way, it's a good idea to read the posted rules thoroughly before the session begins. Be sure to look for special handouts; any extra printed rules for the night supersede what is posted.


Whatever you do, don't try to alter a bingo card! It's not worth it, and no experienced bingo manager or caller will fall for it. Many, if not most, halls will be happy to make an example of anyone caught cheating, prosecuting to the full extent of the law. Play it safe by following the rules and being honest. Below are some common rules you may encounter:
  • In most halls, players must be 18 years of age or older.
  • Some halls prohibit alcoholic beverages, while others will sell beer along with soft drinks. Outside food and drinks are usually frowned upon, since most establishments want you to buy their hot dogs, chips, and soda.
  • During special high-stakes games, management may prohibit players from entering and leaving the hall.
  • Reserving specific cards may not be allowed.
  • Typically, people are not allowed to sit and watch while friends or relatives play; each seated person may be required to have their own buy-in. Some halls may require seated players to have an attendance ticket in plain view while they play.
  • If a player has bingo, it's up to him or her to stop play before the next number is called by announcing "bingo!" loud enough for the caller to hear. It's important to know that bingo must be claimed on the most-recent number called. If the caller has already started announcing the next ball, it's too late to call bingo. Likewise, as soon as the caller closes the game and drops the balls for the next game, any missed bingos become invalid.

One practical point: Bring a photo ID in case you hit the big one. For large jackpots, players might have to produce a Social Security card as well and fill out earnings and tax reporting forms on the spot. Also, the hall may reserve the right to publicize winners or winning cards.

Bingo Etiquette

Bingo players are a friendly lot who will be more than glad to talk you through any bingo problems you might have. But don't forget that you're on their turf. Miss Manners doesn't have much to say about bingo specifically, so here are some tips to follow to avoid stepping on any toes as you make your way through the bingo hall.

Pipe down. The most important of all unwritten rules. You'll notice that regular players pipe down instantly as soon as the caller gets down to business.

Watch out for lucky seats. Some players are very particular about where they sit. If you grab a seat that happens to be a lucky one, you might be asked to move. It's a good idea to go along with the request.

Don't be a parrot. Some people have a habit of repeating numbers as they are called. This might help them concentrate, but it can be very distracting for other players. Try to keep talking and extra noise to an absolute minimum while numbers are being called.

Keep kids quiet. Most people will understand if you have to bring the kids, but they won't tolerate rambunctious youngsters running around and yelling while they are trying to concentrate. Bring an activity or three to keep your children occupied while you play. Sometimes, the hall may offer "fun" bingo cards to keep the kiddies occupied.

Don't take out your frustrations on the caller. Occasionally, players on a losing streak have been known to express their displeasure by yelling "change the caller" or making other derisive or sarcastic comments the caller can hear. Chill out! The caller can't control destiny. If there is a genuine caller problem, try saying, "Louder, please" or "Slow down, please" loudly but politely. If that doesn't work, take the problem to the bingo manager.

Think before you call bingo. Calling bingo stops the flow of the game. If it's a false bingo, regular players might get exasperated with you, particularly if they've already started crumpling up the last game's paper sheets in frustration.

Only smoke in the designated areas. Smoking and bingo are inseparable in the minds of many enthusiasts, and in fact, bingo halls may be the last indoor establishments in America that welcome smokers. But for some players, cigarette smoke can ruin enjoyment of the game or even make them feel sick, especially in a poorly ventilated hall. Try to respect the nonsmoker's space.

First-time and infrequent bingo players can get in sinc with a game quickly by following the playing tips of seasoned players mentioned in the next section.