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Edwin Lowe, Bingo Developer, Dies at 75 : Entrepreneur Reworked Game He Discovered at Georgia Carnival

February 27, 1986|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

The entrepreneur who took a little-known carnival attraction called "beano" and moved it into the American idiom as "bingo" is dead at the age of 75.

Edwin S. Lowe, a toy manufacturer and real estate developer, was at home in New York City when he died Sunday of unannounced causes.

Lowe, who also developed the dice game Yahtzee, was the eldest son of an Orthodox rabbi and was born in Poland. He and his family migrated to Palestine where he studied briefly, and he then came to the United States at age 18.

Here he worked as a traveling toy salesman and liked to say that because of his youth and inexperience he was assigned the Deep South--probably the nation's most unproductive territory for a salesman during the Great Depression.

He was at a carnival in Georgia when he stumbled onto a booth where people were standing in line to pay a nickel for an opportunity to cover a numbered card with beans. The prize was a doll.

Lowe said he stayed late into the night talking to the operator of the booth who told him that he had first seen the carnival attraction at a German circus. At the time beano involved only 12 cards and 12 possible numbered combinations.

Lowe took the concept home to New York and came up with additional combinations. One evening when he was playing it with some friends, one of them got so excited that she blurted out "bingo" rather than "beano" when her card was covered.

Both the name and the game caught on. By then, Lowe had come up with 24 cards, and local churches and clubs found it an expedient and inexpensive way to raise funds. But one Catholic priest complained that his church was experiencing too many duplicate winners and asked Lowe to find additional combinations.

Lowe turned to a Columbia University mathematician who came up with about 6,000 possibilities, and bingo soon became a household word.

Unfortunately for Lowe, the contest attracted dozens of imitators, and despite years of legal battles he was not able to protect his bingo trademark.

During World War II the E. S. Lowe Co., sold to Milton Bradley in 1973 for $26 million, also produced miniature chess and checker sets that American servicemen took overseas.

As his fortune grew, Lowe turned to real estate and banking. In 1962 he built the 322-room Tallyho Inn, now the Aladdin Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. In 1982 he bought, but soon sold, the landmark Pacific Mutual Building on 6th Street in downtown Los Angeles for a reported $50 million.

He also dabbled in film and theatrical productions, among them the 1981 comedy-mystery-romance, "A Talent For Murder," which starred Claudette Colbert on Broadway.

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