A Brief History of Gambling And Casinos

playing roulette
Source: Pixabay

One of the earliest forms of entertainment, people have gambled for thousands of years in one form or another. Almost every time a large group of people gathered, there were those who gamed and gambled, betting anything from food to material goods to money. From ancient China to today’s online casinos, we have assembled a brief history of gambling and casinos.

Early Games And Gambling

The very earliest concrete signs of gambling date from 2300 BC in ancient China. Tiles were found that appear to have been used for games of chance, and the Chinese text Book of Songs contains references to a lottery drawing type of game that these tiles may have been used for. Later, in 200 BC, a game called “white pigeon ticket” began to be played in Chinese gambling houses. A portion of the profits went to the province governor who often used them to fund state works. There are theories that the Great Wall of China itself was in part funded by such lotteries.  Several centuries later in Chinese history, the first playing cards appeared. However, these 9th century cards do not have much in common with those we know and use today, other than the fact that they featured human figures. It was only when cards arrived in Europe that these figures became the kings and queens we know in today’s decks.

The oldest known dice in the world were discovered in an Egyptian tomb dating from 3000 BC. 2500 years later, the Ancient Greek poet Sophocles wrote about dice and gambling and proof has been found that the Ancient Romans were gaming around the same time. Gambling in Rome was forbidden, with a heavy fine exacted if caught, but this just led to the Romans creating the first gambling chips. This way guards would not see money being exchanged and the players could claim they were just playing for fun. Even if philosophers of the day debated over whether gambling was wrong or right, the Greek gods Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hermes, and Pan were all mentioned in myths as having gambled at one time or another.

The Arrival Of Games Still Played Today

We may not know many details about the games played in ancient China, Greek, and Rome, however, the next game development we have proof of is still played today – Baccarat. In the 1400s a version of the game entered France from Italy with soldiers returning from the Franco-Italian War that took place under the reign of Charles VIII. Today’s version is an evolution of this earlier two-player card game and still beloved by casino players.

Other still-popular casino games developed over the next few centuries. Blackjack has a few predecessors from the 17th century including the Spanish ventiuna (mentioned by the author of the famous Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes) and the French vingt-et-un, both meaning 21. Roulette, or “little wheel”, was created a century later in Paris, some historians say by Blaise Pascal as he searched for a perpetual motion machine. The game saw its popularity explode, particularly when the famous Monte Carlo casino included it in its offerings in the 19th century. Some say that modern-day poker comes from As-Nas, a game played in 17th century Persia. Others mention a French game called poque which featured similar play.

Sports And Animal Contests Betting

Sports And Animal Contests Betting
Source: Pexels

Another type of gambling still popular today has its origins over 2000 years ago. Sports betting has basically existed since as long as sports have, growing and adapting to the introduction of new sports across the years. The Ancient Greeks enjoyed betting on a variety of athletic competitions including the Olympics. Sports betting then spread to ancient Rome, where spectators would particularly bet on gladiator games and chariot races.

Similarly, non-human contests had their own gambling. Ancient Greek and Roman pottery show scenes of betting surrounding animal fights, such as dogs, lions, bulls, and even elephants. Animal fighting continued for centuries, but luckily today most countries have outlawed it and have steep consequences for those found to be organizing dog and cock fights for example. Less bloody and more acceptable, betting on horse and dog racing saw great growth and organization in the 19th century.

Gambling on a variety of competitions have allowed spectators throughout history to feel as if they are part of the action, participating right along with the athletes – or animals.

The First Casinos

Although China had gambling houses long ago, the first true casinos date from the 17th century in Italy. In 1638, Venice’s “Il Ridotto” was established, providing a location where gambling could be controlled, particularly during the carnival season. Within a century and a half, however, Il Ridotto was closed down as it was blamed for the increasing poverty seen amongst the gentry. Even so, casinos continued to spread throughout the European continent in the 19th century.

Games and casinos arrived in the New World with the French settlers who brought classics Roulette and Twenty-One (Blackjack) with them. Saloons soon popped up in New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, and San Francisco. These casino predecessors served travelers, providing drink, conversation, and gaming fun. Poker made its way over to New Orleans by the early 19th century as well, and Mississippi River steam boats began to be sorts of floating casinos for the wealthy farmers and traders who did business in the area. Once in America, variations of the game developed, including straight, stud, flush, wild card, lowball, split-pot, and community card poker.

The first slot machine, the Liberty Bell, was created in 1895 by Charles Fey, a San Francisco car mechanic, ushering in a new era of mechanized gambling. The early machines had cigars and gum as prizes rather than money, however this quickly changed as the machines spread across the country. After a brief period of prohibition in the early 20th century, Nevada led the way in legalizing gambling, however it still remains restricted in many states. Video slot machines first appeared in 1976, setting up the online era of gaming. Today slots both on and offline feature a wide variety of themes, from the traditional fruit to animals, TV shows, and movies.

In the 1950s Las Vegas also introduced sports betting inside its casinos, but unless one was located in or near Vegas, the only option for betting on sports was with illegal local bookies. The introduction of online casinos changed this.

Modern Casinos

The first online casinos were created in 1994 after a series of events. For one, Antigua and Barbuda’s Free Trade and Processing Act was passed to allow online casino licenses to be granted to associations all over the world. Microgaming, still one of the largest game developers in the world, developed gambling software and worked with CryptoLogic to secure it. And finally, safe ways to send and receive money were introduced. The end of the 90s saw more gaming commissions set up and the development of multiplayer online gambling.

The true shift from land-based casinos to online casinos began with Playtech’s live dealer casinos in 2003. Nowadays, mobile devices have increased the number of people playing anywhere they may be – from on their tablet while sitting at home on the couch to on their phone while waiting in line at the post office. The best online casinos are all offering mobile versions as a result of this boom. Some online casinos also offer social network plug-ins, as there is an increasing amount of interaction between gambling and social networks.

Sports betting is one area that has seen huge growth thanks to online and mobile casinos. Today it is possible to keep up with events from around the world 24/7 and place bets when it is most advantageous. Additionally, betting has moved from simply live sports events to things such as eSports, politics, royal weddings, entertainment shows, and more.

Today there is also a move towards the use of cryptocurrencies for gaming. Blockchain technology means that there is complete transaction transparency even as it allows a player to gamble anonymously. Furthermore, reduced transaction costs and practically instantaneous withdrawals and deposits are attracting players who want the most bang for their buck.

Over the next years online casinos are likely to continue to see changes in player profiles and connectivity, although how exactly is unclear. One thing is for certain however – gambling will continue to be tightly intertwined with humankind.



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