Hola Tombola: Inside the UK’s Largest Bingo Site
Posted on the 22 May 2019
Phil Cronin of online bingo giant tombola welcomed over fifty members of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum into the company’s new £8m Quayside office for an insightful member event last month.
During an inspiring talk loaded with regional history, Phil shared tombola’s achievements, its future plans, and how a family business with roots tracing back to the 1800s has put Sunderland on the tech map.
Although tombola was only founded at the turn of the century, the company foundations lie in the stationery shop his father owned in the 1960s. According to Phil, his father Frank started creating and printing bingo tickets on the request of a Catholic priest, catapulting the business to become the biggest bingo ticket producer in the world.
At its peak, the company employed 700 individuals and was considered one of the largest employers in the region for nearly five decades, which, according to Phil, was his father’s proudest achievement.
Phil joined the family business in the 1990’s, after obtaining a degree in Computing and Electronics from Durham University, and supported his father to sell interactive game cards before taking charge and launching Intermedia Games in 1994 and then tombola in 1999.
Reflecting on tombola’s early years, Phil remembers the initial struggle getting the business off the ground. In 2005, the company had revenue of less than £50,000 and was preparing to launch its first bingo website.
The company is now celebrating 20 years in business marked with an impressive annual turnover of £90m. Although headquartered in Sunderland, the business has since opened offices in Milan, Madrid, Copenhagen and Gibraltar.
“It’s unusual to have a technology company that has its roots in a business that’s over 150 years old,” said Phil, adding, “We hope that there is a lot of that story in our business today and actually what we are now, and what we aspire to be, is built on the history of the family business and the part that Sunderland plays in this.”
Through rapid and continuous growth, Phil attributes tombola’s success to its people who have created a strong sense of community for themselves and for tombola’s players.
“People play a crucial part in everything we do at tombola and the digital, virtual community is a vital part of what we do,” says Phil, adding, “We employ over 200 people working around the clock working in our chat rooms. We’ve had people meet in our chat rooms, get married and start a family.”
Paired with this real sense of community is tombola’s low-cost games and approach to responsible gambling. Tombola arcade, known as tombola bingo’s ‘little brother’, allows individuals to play from as little as 5p up to a maximum of £1.
“From the beginning we’ve been about low-cost. It’s about getting more people in our community than getting more money from our community.”
When asked what’s next for tombola, for Phil, it’s an increased focus on its talent programme, tombola academy. Working in partnership with local colleges and universities, the academy recruits the next generation of tech talent, offering hands-on training with an interactive and online-focused experience.