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Encyclopedia - History of Gambling

It seems that gambling has been around forever. You can find some evidence of people gambling at literally any point in history. This is why it’s very hard to pin a single event as the beginning of gambling. The same goes for trying to single out events that brought to the creation of popular casino games. Instead, it seems that they developed slowly over time, modifying their rules along the way.  

Still, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find out the origin of certain casino games. As they’ve been an integral part of the development of the human civilization, many historians focus their research on casino games. Their work has been successful so far, as they’ve managed to clear the mystery about the background of many popular casino games.

Gambling in Ancient Times

Although we’re still lacking hard evidence to prove it, there’s a consensus among the historians that gambling has been around since the dawn of civilization. The earliest evidence we have of people gambling dates back to 3rd millennia BC. There’s significant archeological evidence from that period found in China, proving that gambling was a common practice in the ancient times.

The Book of Songs, which is the oldest collection of Chinese poetry mentions gambling in several instances. The game of chance referred in this book is “the drawing of wood”, which is basically the ancient version of drawing the shortest straw.

There’s also some evidence suggesting that the Ancient Chines used to play a version of the lottery, similar to what we now call keno. According to some historians, the lottery was used by the rulers to finance large state projects, such as the construction of the Great Wall of China.

Mythological Origin of Dice

It seems that gambling developed independently in different parts of the world. A proof of that is that in the same era when the Ancient Chines developed lottery, the Ancient Greeks played dice. It is a consensus that the Greeks learned about this game from the Ancient Egyptians, but in Greek tradition, the origin of dice is related to the Trojan War.

Sophocles, one of the most famous Ancient Greek poets, claimed that dice were invented by the legendary hero Palamedes. According to the legend, after inventing 7 letters of the alphabet, Palamedes went on to invent the dice.

Speaking of the Ancient Greeks, they loved playing all kinds of games of chance. They even introduced gambling to the Romans, who are, by the way, credited with inventing the first gambling chips. The story goes that when gambling became a widespread pastime in the Empire, the rulers tried to stamp it out. In order to circumvent the laws, the citizens of Rome started using chips instead of real money.   

Origin of Card Games

Although it is estimated that card games date back to the antiquity, the earliest evidence we currently have is from 9th-century China. Unfortunately, the rules of the card games played during that era are lost. In fact, the earliest card game that’s still widely played is baccarat, which was created in Europe in the early 15th century.   

Another card game with a centuries-long tradition is blackjack. Although its origin is not a hundred percent confirmed, some scholars think that it evolved from the Spanish game called ventiuna, which became popular after Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, described it in one of his books. There’s also some evidence that this card game was created in Italy, from where it found its way to France, where it became a favorite pastime of the aristocracy. One thing is certain though, the word blackjack, is from the 20th century. During the 1930s, the word was used to refer to a special promotion used by the casinos to get more player interesting in card games.

History of Roulette

The variant of roulette we now call the American Roulette was actually invented in Paris, in the late 18th century. The word “roulette” means wheel in French, giving a hint of the game’s origin. Some scholars believe that the first version of this game was inspired by the work of the French physicist, Blaise Pascal, who created a similar mechanism while trying to create a perpetual motion machine.

It didn’t take for this game’s popularity to spread across the ocean. In the first few decades of the 19th century, roulette became hugely popular in the United States. At the same time, back in France, this game started changing its shape. The French decided to drop the “double zero”, which the original version featured, thus creating a variant that we now call the European Roulette.

Where Did the Slots Come From?

Although it seems like a relatively recent invention, the slot machine has been around for more than a century. What is now considered to be the first-ever slot machine, was invented in 1891 by Messrs Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York. Only a few years later, an improved version of the slot machine was invented in San Francisco, by a man called Charles Fey. He named his invention the Liberty Bell Slot Machine.

The machine quickly became extremely popular, not only in the US but across the whole planet, which had a huge influence on the subsequent development of this casino game. In fact, when the first video slots started appearing in American casinos in the mid-1970s, most of them featured the same symbols as the original Liberty Bell Slot Machine. Even today, when video slots are the dominant version of this game, yellow bell symbols are commonly used.

Casino Games Today

Although some of the most popular casino games can be traced back to the antiquity, their rules have evolved over the years. Still, the biggest revolution in the world of gambling happened in our lifetime. Actually, it’s still happening, as the popularity of traditional casinos is diminishing in favor of online casino websites. Thanks to the modern technology, the players have the privilege to play their favorite casino games from the comfort of their homes, rather than visiting brick-and-mortar establishments.

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