Gambling throughout history
Modern-day casinos are a never-ending playground of excitement, from flashy lights and fancy bells and whistles, to non-stop gaming and life-changing jackpots. But where did gambling come from so many years ago, and how has it changed since it first came into being? Let’s take a look at the evolution of gambling in different civilizations throughout history, and find out how it transformed into the pastime we all know and love today.
If you’re a fan of Poker and Blackjack then you have China to thank, as it’s widely agreed that this ancient civilization was the one responsible for giving us the gift of playing cards. After first inventing paper, China went one step further and conceived the idea of paper money. Organizing paper money led to the idea of shuffling being born, and it’s here that the first creative spark of gambling was lit.
Evidence uncovered from the time suggests that early forms of gambling took place in ancient China, most notably the game that we know as Keno today. First played more than 2,000 years ago with numbered tiles or slips, the game resembled a simplistic form of modern lotteries – and in fact a more sophisticated version of early Keno still exists in most land-based and online casinos to this day.
As for playing cards, they were said to come into being in the 9th century AD, during the Tang dynasty, when cards featuring certain icons began to be used in various games of chance. By the late 1300s and early 1400s, similar examples began to be seen in Western Europe, this time decorated with kings and queens – which is how the playing cards we’re familiar with came to be with us today.
Hundreds of years later and nothing has changed – we’re still as captivated by gambling as ever, and we owe China a huge debt of gratitude for helping to put our favourite games on the map.
Ancient Greece and Rome
If you’re someone who believes in fate and modern religion, you might send up a quick prayer for luck before playing a hand of cards or throwing the dice – and interestingly enough, the ancient Greeks were no different. In fact, their gods enjoyed gambling too, with Zeus, Hades and Poseidon having played a game together in order to decide how to split the universe between the three of them. Since Zeus was the king of the gods, we’re guessing he took the top prize in that one.
Aside from gambling being present in Greek mythology however, it was also just as present in everyday life, with ancient Greeks being proved to have played early forms of checkers, heads and tails, and dice games as well. While the Greeks played with three dice, the Romans later played with two, but despite their differences, the two civilizations were united in their love of gambling.
The only problem? Gambling was forbidden and heavily penalized, particularly in ancient Rome. Of course where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Romans soon took to playing with chips instead of actual money, so they couldn’t be penalized if they were caught. It’s that type of ingenuity that still persists in gambling to this day, and it’s why we’re thankful to ancient Greece and Rome, and their gods too. Now if only we could get those same gods on our side at the gaming tables, we could be looking at some legendary wins…
Native American reservations are home to a number of casinos, but in fact findings dating back to the 13th century show that early tribes had just as much of an interest in gambling as their modern-day counterparts. An ancient cave discovered in Utah was found to contain up to 10,000 gambling-associated objects, including carved sticks. These sticks were part of a game where players had to guess if they would land face up or face down when thrown on the ground – a simple but effective game. In fact, archaeologists believe that this game was played by women, and was used to decide who would be in charge of which chore for the day. While women would bet on the chores, men would bet on the outcomes of the women’s game. We don’t know because we’re not archaeologists ourselves, but we very much hope that the women threw a chore or two the men’s way while they were at it. Girl power!
Just as the gods of the ancient Greeks and Romans had ties to their gambling, so too did the gods of ancient Egypt play a role in early forms of gaming. According to legend, the game of Senet was invented by the god of knowledge and wisdom as way of devising the modern calendar. Also found in ancient Indian, Arabian and Mesopotamian culture, Senet was one of the earliest forms of backgammon.
In addition to this popular game, gambling was also used as a way of predicting various outcomes. Certain items such as sticks or stones were thrown, and if an even number were counted, the result was positive; if an odd number was counted, the result was negative. Other forms of gambling included dice made with elephant tusks, and an early version of checkers.
Even more mind-blowing than the games of ancient Egypt though, were the rules found to govern them. Laid out on papyrus documents dating back thousands of years, early Egyptian laws in fact banned the spread of gambling, a pastime that was becoming wildly popular, and punished those contravening the laws with hard labour. Thankfully times have changed, and the only labour associated with gambling involves choosing the outcome you think most likely to take place – which can still often be a tricky business.
With gambling having its roots in ancient civilizations across continents and ages, it’s fair to say that it’s a pursuit that has proved to be endlessly captivating. And given the level of innovation still present in the industry, it’s an activity that’s just as popular today as it was so many years ago. It’s entertaining, it’s immersive, and it’s packed full of adrenaline – and that’s as true for the gambling of yesterday as it will be for all the gambling of tomorrow.