What are Bingo machines ?

restored bingo machines miss america
People are often confused about these machines and think they're pinball machines too. Or they think all pinball machines are bingo machines.

Bingo machines are gambling machines !

Pinball is only for entertainment, you pay to play a game and have fun.
Bingo machines are totally different, you put money in them (usually more features are lit when you put more money in them) and the sole purpose of the machine is to win credits / money with the game.
Although it is not always legal to do so, usually the credits (and thus money) earned by a player can be paid out by the location owner (who has a way to reset the credit counter back to zero).

restored bingo machine playfield

As you can see a bingo machine playfield is totally different from a pinball machine playfield. There are no flippers or other active components. Only holes in the playfield into which a ball drops. The only interaction by the 'player' is to nudge the machine carefully when the ball rolls down and hits one of the posts, in an attempt to get it into the desired hole.

1 card bingo machine 6 card bingo machine

How much you win and into what hole a player should try to let the ball drop, depends on the type of machine. In its most simple way, the goal is to an amount of numbers (3 or more) in a row (horizontal, vertical, diagonal). But every bingo machine has extra options to make it more challenging. Some award credits when you can light all corners of the card, ..

Older bingo machines (picture left) usually only had 1 bingo card shown on the backbox. There were however options to change the position of the numbers, or to change the connections (ie you did not have to make 3 in a row but in another shape).

The most popular bingo machines in Belgium (since the 1980ies) however are the 6-card type (picture right). These show six bingo cards in the backbox with fixed positions. However when a player enters more money into the machine, more options are lit, and thus the chance to win will increase. However on some types of machines it's not always known in advance how much extra money a player has to enter before a certain option will become lit.

You cannot compare the world of pinball and bingo machines. Bingo machines involve lots of money, operators (certainly here in Belgium) are the big guys.. pinball is peanuts and for most of them not worth their time. To give you an example about the money involved: in Belgium (Flanders) an operator has to pay 3500 euro for each machine just to have permission to put it out on location for one year.. That's 10 times more than the license to put a pinball machine on location. And still you see one or more bingo machines in almost every pub (and they earn enough), while you have to search hard to find a pinball machine anywhere..

This also has its implications for collectors who want to repair games. Pinball manufacturers are open and provide a lot of schematics, collectors have made repair manuals available, ..

The bingo world is very closed. As it's a gambling machine, everything is restricted, eprom codes are not available at all, as a collector it's very hard to get support. Manuals and schematics are hardly available, and people who know how to repair these machines, prefer to keep this knowledge for themselves.. If you ask around you can find information for some older machines (1980ies and before).

Because these machines are gambling machines, they are also heavily protected against tampering.

I had a Wimi Miss Bowling Turbo myself, it was not working. Most of the information here is about this type of bowling, although different manufacturers probably use the same systems. Older bingo machines may not have these protections, while modern bingo machines probably have more complicated security !

Anyway, as far as I know, the Wimi Miss Bowling has a protection which most people have a problem with. Part of the security code is kept in RAM. This means that if the battery dies, or, which happens most, if you disconnect cables (i.e. you disconnect the head from the body to move the machine), the machine will loose this memory and refuse to start.

If you switch the machine now on, it's 'in code' and will only show specific numbers on the display. Nothing else happens. It thinks it has been tampered with, and requires the operator to initialize the machine. Without the correct tools, it is impossible to start this machine ever again !

I did get hold of a manual which explains a bit about the security. However I've never seen exactly how to restart a bingo machine, so what I write here is what other people told me, some things may be wrong..

First, I know you need a special small box with which you can disable the checks so the bingo machine will start up. But.. I also heard that these bingo machines can be protected using an 'electronic key'.

This actually is a keychain with an eprom on it, holding the 'missing' settings. This key may even belong to the machine (so you probably can't use the key of another machine). If the bingo machine has the electronic security key activated, you need this eprom keychain or you will never be able to start it ?!

Again, I don't know how accurate all this information is. I have seen a (broken) eprom keychain, so I know they exist. I haven't tested it.. it may be possible to start a bingo machine without the keychain using only the box mentioned above, it may not.. I don't know..

If you have a working bingo machine, take care of it and do not remove the head unless you really have to (but don't complain if it won't work anymore).

If you really want to buy a bingo machine, be careful. Non working machines can be bought (sometimes) cheap, but may be impossible to start. So that bargain you bought may not be a bargain if you can't play it !

If you really want to buy a bingo machine for your home, call around and get information before you buy. Prices differ a lot between operators. Some don't want to sell, others will be glad to. As the gaming law often changes, some operators may still have a lot of machines which they're not allowed to operate anymore.

You'll be much better off spending a bit more and buying a modern machine, which a dealer knows how to repair and can even get spare parts for, than trying to save $100 and get a 20 year old machine which no-one can repair anymore..

One remark about electro-mechanical bingo machines: these are very complicated and even most people who repair EM pinball machines don't want to or know how to repair them. Buying a non-working EM bingo machine to learn how to repair them, may not be a good idea, you'd better start learning to fix EM pinball machines first !
Even electro-mechanical bingo machines had a 'memory' of how much money was put in them an paid out, and do various 'calculations' to decide how many credits can be won by a player or how many extra money has to be inserted into the machine before a specific option becomes available. Don't underestimate their complexity.

Update: Some technical information about a Wimi Miss Bowling De Luxe:
Code EE51 is about the number of balls on the playfield, there need to be 10 in the collector underneath the playfield. In combination with error code 21, this means the game thinks there are too many balls in the game: 10 underneath the playfield and one in hole 21.
So probably this means the switch of hole 21 is broken/stuck closed and therefor the game does not want to start.

Click here to download the manual of GAA Continental Magic bingo.

Click here to download the manual of Wimi Miss Bowling bingo (in dutch).

If the manuals are useful, feel free to donate:

For repairs on electronic bingo machines in Belgium, contact: gokspelen@skynet.be or gerald.coy@skynet.be