Understanding Bingo Odds

Calculating odds in bingo is theoretically very simple — it’s the number of cards you’re playing divided by the total number of cards in play. So if 100 cards are in play, and you have 4 cards, your chances of winning are 4 in 100, or 4 percent. The trick is being able to count how many cards are in play in a game. You can do a head count and multiply that number by what you think is the average number of cards per person, but this can be easier said than done.

However, these odds don’t apply to progressive jackpot games. Remember that in most progressive games, a winner is not guaranteed. So, the odds of winning a progressive jackpot depend more on the difficulty of covering the pattern in the predetermined number of calls. The odds are so steep in some progressive games that it may be weeks or even months before somebody wins.

Which Numbers Come Up Most Often?

Everyone wants to know: "What’s the secret to knowing which balls will come up most often?" The answer is simple. No single ball has a greater chance of appearing in a game than any other ball, provided that the balls are manufactured correctly, that no one is tampering with the balls, and that the blower machine is loaded with a complete set of 75 balls.

Think about it. If you flip a coin three times, it may come up heads twice and tails once. For that extremely small slice of time, it’s true that heads is coming up more often. But if you flipped that coin for three hours straight, the laws of probability say that the number of heads and tails counted would be almost identical.

Now, let’s suppose that, in a two-hour bingo session, N-31 comes up four times while N-42 is never called. It would appear that everybody who wants to win should collect cards that contain N-31. Hold your horses! Over the course of a dozen sessions, or two dozen sessions, there’s not going to be much difference at all between the number of times N-31 is called versus the number of times N-42 is called. It’s just a coincidence that one was called more than the other for that short period of time.

So What Can You Do to Win?

It can’t hurt to try to tip the mathematical balance in your favor by using the following tips.

Avoid the crowds: Since odds depend on the number of cards in play in a game, a poorly attended game can be a rare treat. There’s less competition for the jackpot, and, legally, bingo halls have to award the prizes they advertise regardless of how many people show up.

Play when bad weather or bad timing keeps crowds away.

Play at off times. If you frequent a hall long enough, you might get a sense for picking the sessions that are quieter than others. Depending on the hall, the quiet times might be midweek, midafternoon, late-night, or holidays when everyone leaves town or is with their family. The question is, do you really want to go to the 1:00 a.m. bingo just so you’ll have a slightly better chance of winning a jackpot? It’s possible you’ll be surrounded by a bunch of bleary-eyed bingo players who are all hoping the same thing, which means — you guessed it — there goes your edge.

Another possibility to keep in mind is that the attendance for these games may be low because the jackpots aren’t great. It would be a good idea to do a little research before you settle on a game.

Play multiple cards: The conventional wisdom among bingo players is that you should buy as many cards as you can handle at a time, without breaking the bank. This way, you’ll increase your chances to win. Also, as players get better and more experienced, many like to keep the excitement alive and avoid boredom by keeping themselves busy with many cards.

But does playing multiple cards increase your odds of winning? The simple answer is: yes. Say you’re 1 of 100 people playing bingo, and everyone has bought 4 cards each. That’s 400 cards. Looking around, you sense an opportunity: Buy more cards! So you purchase 20 cards, or 5 times as many cards as anyone else.

Now there are 420 cards in play. In any given game, you have 20 chances out of 420 to win, or about a 4.8 percent chance. The other players each have only 4 chances out of 420 to win, just under 1 percent.

While the math works in your favor in terms of chances, you must be aware that playing multiple cards also gives you the opportunity to lose more money. Remember, you are paying a lot more for a buy-in than the other players.

The fact is, every single card in play in every single game has an equal chance of hitting bingo. There’s nothing wrong with playing four or even eight cards, depending on how much money you are willing to risk. A good rule of thumb is to check out how many cards everybody else is playing, and shoot for the average. Then, if adding a few cards makes the game more enjoyable for you, by all means, increase your buy-in for the next game or session. But in the end, don’t play more cards than you can comfortably track at one time.

Choose nonduplicate cards: Since no bingo card features any number more than once, every single card has the same odds of winning a game. Some players, however, try to maximize their chances of winning by choosing cards that don’t duplicate the numbers they already have on other cards. In choosing cards with different numbers, they are hoping at least one of their cards will feature the number called.

Hold your cards over: Some halls let players retain the same cards from session to session. Is this to your benefit? Well, some players think it may be. They think that playing the same cards over and over will increase their chances of winning. This may be because they have won before with that particular set of cards, or it may be just the opposite: They haven’t won yet with that set, and they feel they are "due."

Even if you’ve won quite a bit with a specific set of cards, you should also consider how many times you haven’t won while playing that set. If you play more, it’s likely you’ll rack up more wins — but you’ll also probably lose more, and you may be less likely to acknowledge the losses.

Another possible benefit to holding your cards over is that you may become familiar with them, giving you a slight edge when it comes to looking for the numbers.

Stay alert: You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Pay attention! If you don’t hear the numbers that are called, or if you forget what pattern you are trying to cover, you can’t possibly win.

Keep a positive attitude: Good things seem to happen to people who don’t dwell on the bad. No one knows why. Some people even believe they can will events into happening if they just imagine it often enough. So try having a positive attitude. Why not? The worst that can happen is that you’ll enjoy the bingo game more!

Got a lucky bingo rabbit’s foot? In the next section, let’s examine some "alternative" ways that bingo players use to increase their odds.