Encyclopedia - History of Gambling

Gambling is one of the activities that have been around for millennia. There is written evidence that the ancient cultures not only practiced gambling but considered it divine. Today, most historians agree that gambling had existed long before it was first mentioned in records. The reason is simple – gambling existed long before writing was invented.

Although there is no way of knowing every single fact from the history of gambling, we do know of some events which had a profound influence on the development of modern casino games. Here are some of them!

Circa 3000 BC – Gambling with Dice

The earliest dice game we know of is Senet, which was played by the ancient Egyptians. It is estimated that this game was played even before 3000 BC, but we have no written evidence earlier than that. At the same time when Senet was popular in Egypt, other dice games were popular in Asia. We know this because dicing is mentioned in Buddhist, as well as Hindu texts.

Apart from the written evidence of dicing in the antiquity, we also have archeological proof. The oldest dice ever excavated are those found at the location now known as the Burnt City, located in the south-east part of Iran. The dice are estimated to be from a period between 2800 and 2500 BC.

Circa 900 AD – Card Games and Lottery

There’s enough evidence to say with certainty that card games were invented by 900 AD. The birthplace of the first-ever card games was China, from where these games spread to Europe across the Silk Road. At approximately the same point in history, another gambling game was invented in the same area – lottery.

The Chinese are credited with inventing the lottery, at its precursor. In fact, the game that was played in China at the turn of the 8th century AD is pretty similar to the modern-day version of pai gow.

1613 – The Beginning of Blackjack Craze

In 1613, Miguel de Cervantes published a collection of short stories titled Novelas Ejemplares. One of those stories, namely Rinconete y Cortadillo, contained a reference to a game called Veintiuna, which is Spanish for 21. Some scholars believed that this sparked the popularity of the game, first in Europe, then in Spanish colonies in South America.

The word ‘blackjack’, however, has nothing to do with the Spanish. It was coined in the United States in 1930’s. The story goes that in order to make the players interested in this game, American casinos started giving them all kinds of incentives. One of those was rewarding the winners with 10x the wagers in payout if the winning card was Jack of Clubs, the so-called Black Jack.

1638 – The First Casino in History

In 1638, Venice’s Palazzo Dandolo was turned into the world’s first public state-run casino. Establishing the casino quickly proved to be a very good idea, given the fact that its clientele were noblemen and rich landowners from all parts of Europe.  

The players came to Palazzo Dandolo to play all kinds of casino games, like biribi, for instance, which is considered to be the ancestor of modern Bingo. Another extremely popular game was basetta, which was a cross between several card games, including poker, gin rummy, and blackjack.

1796 – The Introduction of Roulette

Some historians believe that roulette was invented by accident by the French physicist Blaise Pascal. According to the story, his goal was to invent a perpetual motion machine, but instead, he came up with what’s going to become one of the most popular casino games ever. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this theory, but one thing is certain – in the late 18th century, roulette was the favorite game of Parisians.

1895 – The Invention of First Modern Slot Machine

In 1895, a German immigrant Charles Fey presented the first modern slot machine in a casino in San Francisco.

The machine was called Liberty Bell Slot Machine because of the fact that one of the symbols on the reels was the cracked Liberty Bell.

In honor of the legendary machine, many developers use the same symbols for the modern video slot games.  

1967 – The Beginnings of Texas Hold’em

It is true that the rules of Texas Hold’em poker can be traced back to the early 20th century, this game really caught the eye of the players in 1967. That year, a group of famous gamblers gathered in a casino in Las Vegas to play the world’s first high-rollers’ Texas Hold’em tournament.  

It took a few more decades before Texas Hold’em became the most popular poker variant on the planet. In fact, some believe that the popularity of this game owes so much to its portrayal in the media. For instance, the plot of a critically acclaimed movie from 1998, Rounders, is revolving around a game of Texas Hold’em.

A decade later, Lady Gaga released a single called Poker Face, which, despite being essentially a love song, features a number of references to Texas Hold’em. The song is still one of the best-selling singles, with nearly 15 million copies sold as of 2018.  

1976 – The Invention of Video Poker

The invention of video poker brought big changes in the world of gambling. The players quickly gave up on the old-fashioned mechanical slots in the favor visually exciting video slot games. The first electronic poker machine was made public in 1976 and soon afterward it became the number 1 favorite of casino players. But, even the success of video poker can’t much the popularity of online slot games!  

1994 – Gambling Goes Online

The late 20th century was the period when the internet was starting to become a part of everyone’s lives. One company that realized the potential of the World Wide Web was Microgaming, which was established in 1994. The casino software developer quickly became the leader in the production of online casino games, causing a sort of revolution in the world of gambling.

As the number of internet users grew, so did the popularity of online casinos. Today, when people talk about gambling, they usually refer to online casinos, rather than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Online gambling has already won the battle against the traditional form of gambling, but it’s expected to become even more popular in the near future.   

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