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Who they were and where they went

19 May 2006

Dear Mark,
Please can you tell me when and where did the game of Bingo originate? Was it not called Housey Housey years ago? Yvonne B.

Sometimes called beano, the corn game, and yes, Yvonne, even Housey-Housey; credit the Italians for being the inventors of Bingo.

The game was first called "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D' Italia," but when the French got hold of it in the late 1770's, they shortened the name to "Le Lotto." Initially Le Lotto was played strictly amongst opulent French aristocrats. I’ll bet those upper-crusters couldn’t handle the action my Mom managed; at least a dozen cards at once.

An etymologist I’m not, but my belief is that the development of the word Housey-Housey can be traced to England as that was what the popular game was called amongst seafaring British troops during both World War I and World War II. Our boys much preferred dice and a blanket, and as my Uncle once said, dice games probably kept more soldiers on their knees than did any Chaplain.

Edwin S. Lowe, a traveling salesman who accidentally chanced upon the game at a carnival in Atlanta in 1929, is credited for making the game popular, but the word Bingo itself, suggesting a bell’s ring, was added a bit prior in 1925 to announce a win.

Dear Mark,
I won our service club’s (I’ll keep its name private since technically we’re not supposed to be gambling) Texas Hold’em tournament with the following hand.

My two hole cards were kings, and on the flop I received two more making a four-of-a-kind on the first five of seven cards. I slow played an aggressive player by just calling his bets, and he eventually went all in at the turn, when he caught a full house. He had deuces as pocket cards and caught the deuce on the turn. Needless to say he was pretty upset that his hand wasn’t good enough and said it was a million-to-one shot that beat him. I doubt that, but what were the odds of my four-of-a-kind occurring at the flop? I was just wondering how lucky I was. Phil T.

Luck of Irish Sweepstakes proportion, nah, but congrats on your score, Phil, supported by King David (spades), Alexander the Great (clubs), Charlemagne (hearts) and Julius Caesar (diamonds).

The probability of being dealt two kings before the flop is 72.7 to 1. Catching two more kings and another card, in this case a deuce, on the flop to make four kings is 407 to 1.

Dear Mark,
I have read that faro was a very popular game in the Old West. Did it originate in this country? Was it ever legal as a game in Nevada? Can you still play it now? Gordon W.

Faro was a card game invented by the French, who adapted it from the Venetian game of Basetta, which can be traced back to the 15th century in Italy. French gamblers called the game Pharaoh because one of the honored cards bore the face of an Egyptian Pharaoh. John Law, an exiled Scotsman, introduced it to this country by way of New Orleans, where it then chugged up the river on the Mississippi steamboats, and then cantered across the Wild West.

It became a casino game in 1931 when Nevada legalized gambling, but virtually disappeared by the 1950s. The last faro game was dealt in 1975 in Ely, Nevada, although it did reappear for a short period of time in Reno in the early '80s.

There were three reasons why the game initially became so popular. It was simple to play, it held a casino advantage of under 2%, and the game was played at a very fast pace — two hands per minute. Faro’s demise was because the opportunity for a dealer cheating was greater than with any other card game; that, and its low house edge.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Sir, I really like poker. Every hand has its different problems.” -- Henry Fonda, playing Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.