Gambling Encyclopedia


While you may think of gambling as a relatively new concept especially given the rise of Internet gambling, gambling is inextricably linked with humanity. A little bit of research reveals that no matter how far back you go, people took time to get together and gamble. But where did it all begin?

Earliest evidence of gambling

The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to 2300 BC. It was at this time that anthropologists have unearthed titles in ancient China. These tiles appeared to be the pieces of a rudimentary game of chance. In fact, these tiles are referred to as “the drawing of wood” and can be found in the Chinese book of Psalms. These tiles constituted some sort of lottery. There is also evidence that keno slips were used around 200 BC in the same area as a sort of lottery used to raise money for state projects. Some anthropologists posit that one of the state projects was actually the Great Wall of China. Now, lotteries like this have been used to raise money for civic purposes throughout history. Lottery funds were established by Gail University at Harvard and today are continually used to raise money for government projects.

Playing with dice in ancient Rome

Sophocles, the ancient Greek poet, stated that dice were invented by mythological euro during the battle of Troy that has now become famous thanks to movie rendition. Now it is not likely that this is true but his writings took place around 500 BC and are the first that we have found to mention dice used in Greek history. Of course this is just the first reference. Attunement from 3000 BC was uncovered in ancient Egypt and it contains a paradise. Now we don’t know much about these Egyptian dice but we do know that the Greeks and Romans love to gamble. They loved playing dice games. And most of these forms of gambling were forbidden in Rome and if you were caught playing, you had to pay a fine which was four times the amount of money being that on the game. As a result, Romans invented the first gambling chips. These chips were a way to mask the gambling in question. If they were caught by the guards in the city, they could simply say that they were playing for chips and not for real money which was therefore allowed. Little did the guards know that these chips were being exchanged for real money later the same way you exchange chips at a casino today.

A fresh hand of card games

Scholars have found that card games appeared in the ninth century in China. We don’t know the rules all of these card games but some people suggest that children would use trading cards in China the same way we use trading cards today and adults would play games where they get money. In fact, the first packs of cards were paper. They bear very little resemblance to the packs of cards we use today but it is nonetheless exciting to find out that people who love card games have an ally in ancient Chinese individuals.

If we skip over to Italy and France, we find evidence of the earliest games of two player Baccarat. This version was first mentioned in the 1400s and it actually came from Italy to France. But don’t be bold, this early version was changed over hundreds of years before it evolved into the game we know today. There have been different renditions of the game but the standard version that you see in casinos today actually came over from Cuba and Britain before it reached the United States. Some of the rules were changed during the transition, and while this game is effectively a spectator sport, it is a staple in a most every casino because highrollers just love it.

Blackjack dates back to the 1600s. There are some suggestions that it originated from a Spanish game written by the author Don Quixote in the year 1601. The Spanish rendition referred to in a book is called “ventiuna”. However, some people think that it relates to a game from the year 1570 called “trente-un” or perhaps “quinze”, originating from France. There are plenty of origin stories surrounding blackjack and chances are many people invented the same type of game around the same period of time. If you think about modern achievements and development throughout history, multiple people in different places typically came up with similar conclusions around the same time. This is likely what happened here. That being said, the game of blackjack we know and love today is actually an American innovation which was linked to casinos in Nevada in the 1930s where casinos attempted a special promotion to attract new players. They gave players 10 to 1 odds and they paid out if the player one the game using a black Jack of clubs or spades with an ace of spades. They didn’t keep this promotional special odds because they no longer needed to pay out as often to retain customers with the name “blackjack” has stayed with us.

Making our way into casinos

Casinos as we know them today first appeared in Italy in the year 1638. In Venice, leaders tried to control the gambling environments especially around Carnival season so casino started popping up. It was in these gambling houses that people could place their bets and play many of the games we’ve already covered. Throughout the 19th century casino started popping up in Europe at the same time the US started to create informal gambling houses. In fact around the same time it was steamboats that took prosperous traders and farmers up and down the Mississippi River during which time they were allowed to partake in informal gambling. The quintessential Las Vegas strip that we pictured today when we think of gambling arose after the tumultuous Great Depression.

Roulette, the game we know and love today, actually came about in Paris in the year 1796. In Paris the players would use a wheel that we now call the American roulette wheel. 50 years later but we referred to as the European version came along and it had a single green zero. It grew in popularity throughout the 19th century and the Monte Carlo casino adopted the single zero form which spread throughout Europe and remains to this day.

The origins of poker are slightly harder to pin down especially given so many card varieties over the years. Persia has some relation to early poker games in 17th century but the poker we know today is inspired by a French game referred to as “poque”. It was in English actor who brought it over to New Orleans in the year 1829 and at that point the game wasn’t particularly famous until around the 1970s when it started growing in popularity in Vegas. The advent of online poker and televised poker events have actually increased the popularity of this game more than any other time in history.

Slot machines made their way into the gambling world around the year 1891. The first slot machine was developed in New York and it used 52 cards on a drum wheel, the result of which was the type of poker game. Obviously this is nothing like what we play today. Very soon after the Liberty Bell machine was invented in San Francisco and today many of the video slot games that you play will feature the symbols whose origin dates back to the Liberty Bell machine. It was in the year 1976 of the first video slot machine was actually created which paved the way for the online video slots we play today.

Related articles:

  1. History of Keno (Translated from German by Patryk Czemarnik)
  2. Marjolet cards game (Translated from German by Patryk Czemarnik)
  3. Red Dog or Pointeure (Translated from German by Patryk Czemarnik)
  4. Ganjifa: The Colourful Ancient and Card Game (Written by Abha Vardhan)