The concept of gambling is as old as the history of mankind. Even though the term ‘gambling’ came much later, the idea of betting one’s belongings in a game of luck has been prevalent for thousands of years. A favourite pastime of the rich and the powerful since times immemorial, gambling has been mentioned in texts as old as the Bible and the Mahabharata.
Before the advent of trade and much before the invention of money, men from royal families and noble houses would gather to play games. They would bet their land, cattle, slaves and other belongings in a game based on chance.
The earliest evidence of gambling comes from Ancient China. Around 2300 B.C., tiles were used in a game that resembles a modern day lottery system. Archaeology suggests that cavemen used animal bones to make dice-like objects. Carvings on archaic Greek pottery show betting on animal fights and slave arenas.
Homer’s epic poems about Ancient Greece say that Gods gambled over their right to rule the world. Zeus, Hades and Poseidon played a game to divide the universe between themselves. The poet Sophocles wrote that dice were invented by a mythological hero during the siege of Troy. And a pair of dice was found in an Egyptian tomb from 3000 B.C.
Once coins came into existence, the game of Heads and Tails was invented. ‘Tilia’ was a betting game played in Ancient Greece which evolved to become modern day Checkers. The casting of lots was a popular gambling practice in Judaism. Biblical texts suggest that Roman guards cast the lots to win the garments worn by Jesus during his crucifixion.
At a certain point, the Roman Empire became so completely absorbed with gambling that Emperor Claudius had to drain his kingdom’s treasury, raise taxes, confiscate lands and sell his slaves to repay the Empire’s debts. Stringent laws and restrictions were placed against gambling to stabilize the economy.
Since their legal system prohibited the use of real money, Roman citizens devised the first gambling chips. So if they were caught gambling, they could claim to be playing only for chips and not for real money.
The game of cards first appeared in China in the ninth century. These cards were both the game as well as the stake, similar to the trading card games played by children today. A two player card game in Italy from the 1400s was the first version of Baccarat, the earliest casino game.
History suggests that the most primitive form of Blackjack was a game called ‘Ventiuna’ played in sixteenth century Spain. The French game of Vingt-et-un, is a direct forefather of modern Blackjack. This game arrived in the US along with early immigrants from France.
Gambling houses were established in Italy during the annual Venetian carnival seasons of the early seventeenth century. These became the first casinos of the modern world. Soon, casinos started coming up all throughout continental Europe. Roulette originated in the gambling houses of Paris and became the signature game of the famous casino at Monte Carlo.
Poker was initially played in Persia and then spread to Europe. The poker that is renowned today was inspired by a French card game called ‘Poque’. The first slot machine was developed by Messrs. Sittman and Pitt in New York in 1891.
The Great Depression of the 1930s left most of America penniless. The US Government legalized gambling as it was the only way people could try and earn some money. With the opening of legal casinos and nightclubs, Las Vegas in Nevada emerged as the hottest gambling destination in the world.