history of gambling

A Concise History of Gambling Exploring Its Inception and Evolution in The 21st Century

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No matter how far you travel back in time, you’re bound to find evidence of people coming together to gamble in some form or another. Indeed, it is rather difficult to separate the history of gambling from the history of humanity itself. From the dawn of ancient civilizations till this very day, gambling has always been a popular form of entertainment, reflecting humans’ innate desire for risk and reward.

As we embark on this journey through time, we’ll explore some significant milestones in the evolution of gambling, highlighting key dates and developments that have served as a backdrop to the gambling experience we know today.  Who knows? Perhaps the next time you’re playing online pokies in Australia for real money, you may look at these much-loved games with a more appreciative eye. After all, as you’ll soon discover, they’ve come quite a long way. Let’s go through each era one by one and uncover the origins of different games as we know them today.

c2300bc: Ancient China And The Earliest Traces Of Gambling

Certain types of gambling have likely existed since the birth of human civilization. However, it is in Ancient China that we discover tangible evidence of gambling. Among the archeological treasures unearthed, the discovery of particular tiles suggested a primitive game of luck, possibly a precursor to the world of lotteries.

Interestingly, the Chinese ‘Book of Songs’ hints at “the drawing of wood”, possibly implying that the tiles may have been part of a lottery game of sorts. Fast-forward to 200 BC, and we encounter keno slips. These were used as some form of lottery tickets to finance great endeavors, like the awe-inspiring Great Wall of China. Lotteries, with their dual role of entertainment and public benefit, continued to shape history, funding prestigious institutions like Harvard and Yale, and leaving an indelible mark on the journey of human development.

c. 500BC: Gambling In Ancient Rome And The Art Of Deception

We know that circa 500bc, Sophocles, the Greek poet, mentioned dice in his writings, claiming they were invented during the siege of Troy. While it is true that dice existed much earlier, we also know that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were enthusiastic gamblers, betting on various games of chance. In ancient Rome, all types of gambling, including games using dice, were not allowed within the city. The penalties for those caught engaging in these games of chance were severe, amounting to four times the wager placed. But the Roman spirit was not easily quelled. Resourceful as they were, Romans tried to circumvent this by inventing gambling chips, so that they could confidently claim their innocence, saying their games were mere pastimes, played for chips as opposed to real money.

c. 800AD: The Mysterious Origins Of Playing Cards In China

In the 9th century AD, playing cards made their first appearance in China. While the exact game rules of playing with these early cards are lost in time, some claim that the cards served as both the game and the wager, very much like modern trading card games that children play. Other sources propose that the first card decks resembled Chinese dominoes and had little resemblance to the typical 52-card decks we use nowadays.

1400s: Baccarat – From Italian Nobility To Global Casino Fame

Baccarat, the earliest casino game that is still played today, has its roots in 15th-century Italy. The game migrated to France, where it underwent various evolutions over hundreds of years. The version we are familiar with today, arrived in the US from Cuba, via Britain, with a few changes to the game rules. Despite being more of a spectator sport than a traditional game, baccarat maintains its popularity among high rollers, establishing itself as a staple in nearly every casino around the globe.

c.1600 Blackjack: The Card Game That Survived The Test Of Time

The exact origins of blackjack are debated, with several possible predecessors mentioned in historical records. Spain’s ventiuna (21), the trente-un (31) game from 1570, and France’s quinze (15) all vie for the title of the earliest ancestor.

In the 17th century, France gave birth to vingt-et-un, a game that paved the way for modern blackjack. Alongside early settlers, vingt-et-un crossed the Atlantic, arriving on American soil. But it was in Nevada’s casinos during the 1930s that the name “blackjack” was born.

To entice players, Nevada casinos offered special promotions, rewarding those who won with a black Jack of Clubs or with Spades alongside an Ace of Spades with enticing 10 to 1 odds. Although these odds were short-lived, the name “blackjack” endured, leaving an indelible mark on the game’s legacy.

1638: The Emergence Of Modern Casinos In Italy

In the initial years of the 17th century, the first gambling houses that resembled modern casinos emerged in Italy. The ‘ridotto’, established in 1638 in Venice, provided a controlled gambling environment during the annual carnival season. As the 19th century unfolded, casinos proliferated throughout continental Europe, while more informal gambling houses gained ground in the United States, especially on steamboats plying the Mississippi River. The iconic Las Vegas Strip, synonymous with casinos, emerged from the depths of the Great Depression.

1796: Roulette’s Evolution And International Impact

The version of roulette that we’re familiar with today, traces its roots to the opulent gaming houses of Paris. In its earliest form, the wheel bore a striking resemblance to the American Roulette. However, it took another half a century for the European variant, with its single green zero, to make its debut. Roulette gained traction during the 19th century, captivating players all across Europe. When the Monte Carlo casino adopted the single-zero version, it gained popularity all across Europe and most countries around the world, while the American roulette tables continued to feature the double-zero wheels of the old.

1829: Poker’s Transition From A Local Game To A Worldwide Phenomenon

The precise origins of poker are elusive, as the game evolved over decades and potentially centuries from a variety of card games.  Reports suggest that a familiar type of poker was being played in New Orleans as early as 1829. However, it was not until the 1970s, with the advent of world poker tournaments in Las Vegas, that the game’s popularity gained traction. The internet further revolutionized poker, with online platforms and events shown on television allowing spectators to witness players’ hands.

1891: Slot Machines And The Birth Of Mechanical Gambling

In 1891, Messrs Sittman and Pitt developed a gambling machine in New York that resembled the slots we know today. Their device used drum reels with 52 cards, creating a poker-like game. In more or less the same period, Charles Fey invented the Liberty Bell machine in San Francisco. Fey’s invention regulated winnings more precisely, marking the start of a whole slot game evolution. Symbols such as bells, still found in modern video slots, originated from these early machines. As slot machines evolved, they became staples in bars and casinos worldwide. The invention of the first video slot in 1976 set the stage for the online video slots we enjoy today.

1910: Gambling In America: The Rise Of Legalized Gambling

The US has had a complex relationship with gambling since the arrival of European settlers. Puritan settlers prohibited gambling outrightly in their communities, while those from England were more tolerant.

In 1910, public pressure across the nation led to a ban on gambling. However, much like the banning of alcohol during the same era, enforcing the ban proved challenging, and gambling continued discreetly. The Wall Street Crash and the subsequent Depression in the early 1930s prompted the legalization of gambling, offering a means to alleviate widespread poverty. While gambling is legal in several states today, online gambling remains an indeterminate territory in the US, though the landscape may change in the near future.

1994: The Emergence Of The Digital Frontier

In 1994, Microgaming, a prominent casino game developer, ventured into the realm of virtual casinos, heralding the onset of online gambling. Within a span of five years, online gaming bloomed into a billion-dollar industry. Presently, the online gambling sector is a multibillion-dollar market, boasting a multitude of over a thousand online casinos. Playtech’s groundbreaking innovation in 2003, introduced live dealer casinos, offering a unique hybrid experience that merges the world of physical casinos with the virtual domain.

2023: Mobile Gaming: Placing Bets At Your Fingertips

Following the legalization of online gambling in New Jersey in 2011, there has been a notable upsurge in both interest and accessibility. The US is currently witnessing a progressive wave of state-by-state legislation, coupled with the rapid growth of mobile gambling. As internet users worldwide increasingly gravitate towards handheld devices, online gamblers are also embracing this shift. Recognizing this trend, top gambling sites have prioritized the development of impressive mobile-centric platforms, gradually sidelining desktop options in favor of more mobile-friendly alternatives.

What Does The Future Hold?

With the rapid pace that things are evolving in the gambling scene, it is difficult to predict what’s next in line for the ever-evolving industry. Today, all eyes are on the booming mobile gaming market, with online casinos racing to optimize their content for the latest handheld devices. Not to mention that the rise of cryptocurrencies shows no sign of slowing down. Meanwhile, virtual reality headsets have introduced us to an immersive experience with limitless potential. With all these exciting innovations, the world is at our feet. Only time will tell what the future holds, but certainly, if technology sustains its rapid progress, the sky is the only limit to what lies ahead.


Chloe Wilson

Bio: Chief Editor Chloe Wilson runs an affiliate website, where her main job is to check that all content is in line with the stipulated QA standards, ensuring that each and every final draft is ready for live publishing. Having worked in this niche for a couple of decades now, she is very well versed on what it takes to be fully compliant within the online casino world. When she’s away from the hustle and bustle of work, she enjoys trying her hand at culinary creations, keeping fit and travelling.


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