You may be surprised to know that the quintessential Mexican game Lotería has its origins in Europe and came to Mexico by way of Spain. Lotería is often referred to as “Mexican Bingo”. For anyone who has had the opportunity to play Lotería, will find similarities in playing American Bingo. However, players will quickly realize, how much more visually and intellectually engaging and fun it is to play Lotería than the American Bingo game. In American Bingo, an announcer calls out the selected letters and numbers, such as “B-4″ and the players mark their game boards accordingly. In Lotería, the announcer gives an improvised short poem or familiar phrase alluding to the image on the card (e.g. “the coat for the poor” for the image of the sun, or “the one who dies by the mouth” for the image of the fish). Each player uses a chip -often a kernel of corn or a bean-to mark the corresponding spot on his or her tabla. In either game, the first player to appropriately fill the game board or tabla in a predefined pattern will shout either “Bingo!”or “Lotería!” to win the game and receive the prize.
Since poetic license is afforded to the announcer of Lotería, the success and popularity of the announcer depend on his cleverness and style.
The announcer’s approach will often depend on the social context in which the game is being played. At a church bazaar, for example, he might use a more tame humor, while for a game played in an adult setting he might use innuendos that are more risqué and derisive. Satire and references to contemporary events and politics are often a part of the word play involved; in fact, the linking of images to social commentary has existed since the inception of the game.
Lotería has been played as a game of chance, as a pastime, and for educational purposes. Because the Lotería cards include the name of the pictured character, they are used to teach reading, writing, history, and social values. Many bilingual teachers use the game as a teaching tool in the United States.
One of the more interesting historical versions was an educational, liturgical Lotería that appeared in the 1930’s.
The images employed were objects and concepts found with the Catholic Church. This combination of the irreverence and banality of the game coupled with the solemnity of sacred symbols had some Catholics concerned. While the marriage of church and gambling in the form of Bingo is common in the United States, the initial intent of the church-sanctioned liturgical Lotería was more educational –to allow the parishioners to differentiate between a tunicle and a maniple, for example.
The most recognized version of lotería is the “Don Clemente Gallo” rendition introduced in Mexico in 1887 by the French businessman, Don Clemente Jacques. He purchased a manufacturing plant in Mexico to produce many items including packaged food products, corks for bottles, and ammunition. In their printing press section they produced labels for the packaged food, invitations, party favors, and the game Lotería. The owners today of Don Clemente Gallo Pasatiempos, have continued this version through three generations. Throughout the past hundred years, the original artwork found on its 54 cards, has remained the same. Don Clemente Gallo Pasatiempos own the registered trademark of the original images, including the most famous and better known images that have existed. As Mexican culture spread across the border, so did the demand for the game within the United States. The original Don Clemente Gallo Lotería game can be purchased today not only in Mexico but also in the United States.
Artists have been inspired by the images of Lotería since its inception and is not a unique occurrence. However, having the support of the NEA and the State of Arizona to back the artist Teresa Villegas to produce an installation of paintings using the theme of Lotería, and then to have the original makers of the game Don Clemente Gallo in Queretaro, MX ask to use her images for publishing and distributing a new version of their game, is unique. This was also an honor for the artist, since Gallo hadn’t changed the images of their games in over 100 years.
While living in Mexico, it was in the research, for her installation paintings that she first encountered Gallo. Gallo was very generous with giving their time, historical facts and information for the development of her work. While in communication with Gallo, they had asked to see her paintings and she had shown them a few sample paintings and the sketches for the remaining. They had liked what they saw and were excited at the thought of “sprucing up” the 100 year old game.
Thus the “Nuevo Versión” Lotería game born, produced and distributed throughout Mexico and the US from 2001-2008. During the initial process of publishing this nuevo Loteria game, Gallo had offered Villegas if she would like to have a higher end printing of the game than the original game. It was decided by Villegas to keep it affordable and available “for the masses” in keeping with the historical intent when Lotería first came to Mexico for the soldiers’ past time. Therefore the printing quality and the retail prices remained the same as the original lotería game. Any royalties received by Villegas were given to Save The Children Foundation, Mexico.
In 2008, as did many businesses, Gallo cut back the production of many of their products because of the global economic recession, thus ending the production and distribution of el “Nuevo Verisión de Lotería”.
The original artwork, titled “La Loteria: An Exploration of Mexico” began touring in Mexico in 2001-03 and continues to tour throughout the US to this day.