The History of Gambling from Ancient Times to Now
Betting on outcomes and gambling is a practice that has woven its way into the tapestry of human history for thousands of years.
From ancient civilizations who bet on the roll of dice to modern-day casinos where you place bets on cards, the act of wagering money or valuables on the outcome of events has taken various forms for centuries.
The method of how, however, reflects the cultural, social, and technological changes humanity has gone through.
Whether you’re wondering how betting real money at casinos started or curious about where Mahjong originated, this post deep dives into the ancient past and brings us back to the present of casinos around the world.
Gambling’s Ancient Beginnings
The origins of gambling can be traced back to numerous ancient civilizations. The act of betting on dice, which are one of the earliest gambling tools around, has been discovered in archaeological sites dating to over 5,000 years ago.
Past civilizations such as the Egyptians and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, as well as the ancient Greeks, bet on dice games, and these dice were made from materials such as bone and clay. Apart from the remnants and historical records of numerous forms of dice, gambling on card games also has an ancient lineage that can be fairly well traced.
The Chinese are the ones credited with inventing playing cards which happened around the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. This became a popular pastime thanks to woodblock printing technology making it more accessible to common folk and not only nobility.
These early cards are nothing like the thin modern versions that we play with today, but they did lay out the foundation for future card game developments.
What Kind of Gambling Happened in Ancient Cultures?
- One of the countries with the longest and richest histories of gambling is China. One of the earliest known gambling forms dates back to the Song Dynasty and was the foundation for games like Mahjong. In the 14th century, the Chinese government created the first state-sanctioned lottery in order to fund public projects and it took off to become a beloved creation that is practiced around the world.
- In ancient Greece and Rome, gambling was a regulated and popular activity. Dice games, as well as what was a precursor to backgammon, were commonly played between friends as well as political rivals. To keep things fair, Greek and Roman authorities imposed strict laws and regulations on gambling to help guide its control and influence on society.
- The land of ancient India was no stranger to gambling as well. It is documented well in the epic of the Mahabharata, which includes a tale of a gambling game that led to rather significant consequences. This is a prime example of a cautionary tale on gambling wisely as the story lays out how Yudhishthira lost a dice game, which eventually led to the exile of the Pandavas and ultimately led to the war of Kurukshetra.
The Middle Ages and Renaissance
As centuries ticked over, the Middle Ages was when the act of organized gambling emerged around Europe. Lotteries became commonplace as they were used to finance public projects that everyone benefited from, such as building bridges and keeping harbors well-maintained.
The first-ever recorded state lottery in Europe was held in the 15th century, in Low Countries. During the Renaissance period, nobles became transfixed on passing the time by playing card games and many of the playing cards we can identify today began to take shape during that period.
The French deck was the first to showcase the four suits as we know them, of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades.
The Rise of Institutional Casinos
The gaming houses of casinos became more developed in the 17th century. No longer were card games and dice games played in private parlors or street corners alone. In Venice, the Ridotto was established in 1638, and it is often believed to be one of the very first casinos in the world. As polished gambling houses became popular the casino began to spread through Europe.
By the turn of the 18th century, a French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, invented the roulette wheel while he was working on a perpetual motion machine. The game of roulette quickly became a favorite in casinos.
The Wild West of America
The popularity of gambling quickly came about in the USA in the 19th century as settlers moved westward and small towns sprang up. Card games like poker became a staple in the saloons and bars of the Old West.
To regulate and control gambling, many American cities legalized and licensed betting houses, which marked the emergence of the first legal casinos in the United States, the first of which was Crescent City House in New Orleans which opened its doors 24/7 in 1827.
Present Day Gambling
As the 20th century rolled around, the reach of legal gambling happened worldwide. Places such as Las Vegas, in the USA became the epitome of casino culture which quickly spread. During the mid-20th century the rise of state lotteries in the United States occurred, and like other worldwide governments, this became a way to fund public projects.
During the late 20th century and early 21st centuries, the rise of internet gambling occurred. This led to the creation of a worldwide network of online gaming sites like Grand Eagle casino, allowing gambling to become accessible to a far-flung global audience.
No longer did casino patrons need to leave home instead they could place bets, spin slots, and play card games from homes. This also allowed regional-specific gambling games to find a worldwide audience to enjoy them, with games such as Sic Bo, Mahjong, and Baccarat spread to the Western world and beyond.
With the creation of newer payment methods becoming popular such as cryptocurrencies, and the ability to play against Live Dealers, and experience VR casinos, the gambling world as we know it continues to shift change.
Despite the numerous forms it has taken, it has never fallen out of favor with humanity, and instead, has adapted and thrived, spanning cultures, eras, and forms. Allowing new generations to experience everything from physical card games to iGaming platforms and leaving a mark on the world that will never fade.