BUDGE up, Grandma - there's a new girl in town. The stereotypical image of old women with purple hair playing clickety-click in their slippers is fading. Scoring (off numbers) is an ever-growing trend among younger females.

With dedicated "student nights" and online bingo soaring, the industry's attempts to update its image, with celebrity endorsements by the likes of Denise Van Outen and Catherine Zeta Jones, appear to be paying dividends.

More than 8.5 million people played bingo last year, and the most recent statistics show a rise of more than 15% in younger players. Nearly half of players are now under 45, according to the Bingo Association.

Elsewhere, newly released figures show 51,000 women under the age of 35 play bingo online.

Of these, 22% log on more times per week than go to the gym - and 12% do so more often than having sex.

"I don't know if I'd find bingo more satisfying than that," laughed Natalie Kane, 22. "But I suppose the joy of getting a big win is bound to last longer."

Ms Kane was speaking from the Carlton Club in Partick, Glasgow - part of Scotland's largest independent bingo chain. Like many others, the club is housed in a handsome building that once served as a dance hall, before that leisure pursuit fell into decline.

While figures suggest a growing interest in bingo among younger people, the industry is still forced to pull in two directions simultaneously - keeping the loyal middle-aged and OAPs that form its heartland happy, while also attracting the young trendy players it needs to remain viable.

There is certainly a strong sense of tradition woven through bingo - generations of women have gone to bingo while their men have gone to the football - and Ms Kane, from Govan, typifies this. The administrative assistant was introduced to her "beautiful game" by her mother and grandmother.

"I started coming to bingo recently, and now I'm hooked," she said. "I often get really close to winning - I'm convinced that God is just waiting to give me the big win one day. But it's about more than winning. It's about the atmosphere, too."

Ms Kane's "bingo buddy" is Susan Swanson, 25, a call-centre worker. She decided to join her friend after reading about Ms Kane's plans on the social networking site Bebo.

"I think people often associate bingo just with grannies but that's not the case," said Ms Swanson. "There really is a bit of a thrill about it, it's exciting - and it's a good night out that is much cheaper than going clubbing."

Sitting alongside the friends are Ms Kane's mother, Karen, 44, and her aunt, Sandra, 40, both of whom crossed the threshold of their first bingo hall at 17. While they welcome the growing interest among younger people, they lament the demise of old-style bingo lingo.

Rhyming slang such as "clickety-click" (66), "two fat ladies" (88) and "legs eleven" (11) - thought synonymous with the game - are rarely heard these days. This has partly been brought about by an attempt to make the game appear "more professional".

"I'd like to see the rhyming slang coming back. It added to the atmosphere," laughed Sandra Kane. "Even though the older folk sometimes got a bit annoyed when the whole hall wolf-whistled after legs eleven."

The view that bingo is the preserve of elderly docile ladies irritates the industry. Anyone who has tried "dabbing" six cards filled with numbers read out at high speed knows the game is not for the faint-hearted. Indeed, research has shown it improves mental agility.

"For something to be around as long as bingo has, it has to have something going for it," said Steve Baldwin, spokesman for the Bingo Association. "We see a broad range of ages, and it's good to watch new generations discover that their grandmother was on to a good thing."

First-timer Emma Hardy, 24, a pharmacology graduate now studying for a degree in medicine, does not doubt the skill required for the game - but she remains unconvinced that granny does indeed know best.

During her first visit to a bingo hall, Ms Hardy admitted feeling "out of place". She and three graduate friends had swapped their typical get-together, over a restaurant meal and cocktails, for what may have seemed like the exoticism of pie, mushy peas and lager in the alien world of bingo.

"It's always good to try something different, although I didn't expect to have to concentrate so much, and for it to be so quiet during games," said Ms Hardy. "I don't think I'll be back."

Also sceptical of the game's appeal was Kerry Hunter, a 24-year-old doctor. "I missed out on a double line, so I'm a bit gutted," she said. "The speed was a bit too fast for us, but a woman on the next table was trying to help."

All was not lost, though. Jacky Johnston, 26, studying for a PhD in chemistry, and Shona Dickey, a 24-year-old hospitality graduate, were smitten by the game.

"I'll be back," said Ms Johnston. "I think it must be in my blood - my mum and gran are both bingo players."

But while the game - which has been hard hit by the smoking ban - may continue to tempt growing numbers of younger people with its quirky delights, the industry believes its biggest battle is the "unfair" tax system. While bingo is gambling-lite it remains the most heavily taxed of such pursuits.

According to Mr Baldwin this anomaly must be addressed. He added: "We no longer have village halls, so bingo is uniquely placed to bring generations together. Anything that gets people out from in front of their televisions and mixing in their communities has to be preserved."

This sentiment is echoed by Donegal-born builder Laurence MacNulty, 62, one of a growing number of men who has taken up the game. First persuaded by his wife, Molly, to go to the bingo 20 years ago, he now plays more often than her.

"I know everyone in this place," he said of the Carlton Club - where niceties like not talking when games are being played are preserved.

"There are good honest people at the bingo. You can walk away leaving your purse or wallet on the table, and they will still be there when you get back. How many places can you go where you can say that about nowadays?"