In the 21st Century gambling is a prevalent, common activity, which can be found in abundance around the globe and in all cultures. But the question is, how and where did it all begin?
Pinning the exact year in which gambling began is not just difficult, but nearly impossible. Gambling has been going on for millennia—present even before the rise of written language as we know it today. The earliest we can attempt to pin the beginning of gambling is in 3000BCE. This date is estimated with the discovery of a pair of dice found in an Egyptian tomb. The use of said dice is unspecified, but there are only so many uses for dice so archeologists assume they were used for an early form of gaming.
The next culture in history to present evidence of gambling is the Chinese. Tiles believing to belong to a game of chance were unearthed and dated to 2300BCE. Besides just the tiles, ancient Chinese literature around this time refers to a lottery type game that may have been played with wood pieces.
Gambling didn’t rise in isolation, there is mention of it in almost every culture past 3000BCE. In Greek writings dating back to 500BCE, there is the mention of a sort of dice game played on the streets of Rome. Gambling was illegal in Rome, which tells us it must’ve been quite prolific for it to be prohibited by law. The law stated, that if a person were found gambling, they would pay a penalty of four times the amount that they bet. This led to the invention of chips, this way if an individual was caught gambling, there was no obvious “value” to what they were betting and they wouldn’t be fined.
Beginning of the Common Era
The first evidence of card games presents itself in China in 800CE. It is unclear what games were played with these cards, but historians suggest the rules may have been similar to modern day dominoes or that the cards may have been treated like trading cards are today.
The 15th century led to the rise of the first game that most of you will recognize, Baccarat. Baccarat showed up in both Italy and France during this time period. However, the rules were very different than the modern rules followed today, and most modern Baccarat players probably wouldn’t recognize the game.
Next up to make an appearance is Blackjack, which appeared sometime in the 1600’s in Spain. Obviously, the name Blackjack is an American word and was not used during this time. Nevertheless, it is suspected, based on literary references that the rules played by in 1601 were quite similar to the modern rules of the Blackjack we play by today.
In 1638, Italy built the world’s first “gambling houses” otherwise known as “early casinos” to help monitor all the bets that were occurring during holiday celebrations such as carnival in the spring. Shortly after in 1796, Paris built the first Roulette wheel, but it didn’t catch on until Monte Carlo adopted it in the next century. After that, it became widely known and quickly spread to the US.
Just as the origin of gambling is difficult to pin down, so is the beginning of one of the most popular games today, Poker. Poker is believed to be a melting pot of a bunch of different games, melded together over years of playing with only oral rules passed from generation to generation. The first card game recognized as what we call Poker today, occurred in 1829 in New Orleans, and thus this is the officially recognized “birthdate” of Poker. The rise of Poker was slow, as it wasn’t as easy to play as other games of the time, and did not hit widespread fame until the 1970’s.
As the industrial revolution began to take hold, so did the rise of machine gambling. In 1891, Sittman and Pitt in New York developed the first machine recognized as a primitive slot machine. This machine didn’t pay out money, as they do today, but rather gave out rewards like free beers. Over the years the rewards changed from free beers, to gum and candy, and finally to the monetary payouts we receive today.
In the early 20th century, the United States proceeded to ban gambling, but of course, this didn’t last long. People continued to gamble despite the ban, they just hid it instead of gambling in the open as they used to. After the end of the Great Depression, the United States once again legalized gambling in order to try and alleviate poverty in some of the smaller towns, which were hit the hardest. This led to the rise of cities such as Las Vegas, and Atlantic City, both of which are famous for being towns where gambling is legal.
The Online Era
Casinos took a leap into virtual gaming in the early 90’s when they created modern video slots. Video poker followed shortly after, and online gambling became mainstream in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker won the World Poker Tour—leading to the public believing anyone could become a poker millionaire. Online gambling is still a legal gray area in the United States, except for in New Jersey where online gambling is completely legal. Las Vegas also has legal online gambling, but only for certain games—mostly Poker.
As Casinos have gone online, there’s been an increasing issue of how to both verify players and how they are able to deposit and withdraw their money. This problem was solved with the invention of cryptocurrency casinos—these casinos use a digital currency to take deposits from players and then pay out in the same digital currency. This keeps players from having to travel or drive to withdraw their money from the online casinos.
On of the best online casinos, MintDice, takes payment in Bitcoin and offers games such as dice, slots, Plinko, and an innovative new game called BitRocket. A far cry from dice rolled in ancient Egypt!
It’s hard to predict where gambling will go in the future, as virtual reality becomes more attainable, who knows, maybe you’ll be visiting a virtual reality casino soon enough! At this point, anything is possible!