Did you know that gambling is one of the world’s oldest human activities? From China to Ancient Greece, gambling was a hugely popular pastime for people, and we can see this in writing, imagery and equipment from thousands of years ago. Throughout time, casino games have evolved and new games have emerged, taking us up to the present day where online gambling and mobile gambling are the hot commodities.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important periods in the history of gambling.
The Origins of Gambling in China
The first signs of gambling date way back to 2300bc. Of course, some forms of gambling will have most definitely pre-dated this, but this is the first time that historians found evidence. Tiles were uncovered in ancient China, and it is believed these were used as part of a game of chance. Other evidence relating to these tiles is the Chinese Book of Songs which talks about these objects and suggests they were used as part of a gambling game similar to the lottery.
Not only that, it also appears that the game of keno was first played in China. Keno slips have been found in the country that is guessed to be from around 200bc. What makes this so interesting is that historians think this may have been a game that helped to fund the state and could have helped in the funding and construction of the famous Great Wall of China.
This is a precedent for gambling in modern times, as it looks like not much has changed! While lottery-style gambling was most likely used to fund state construction, it is still used for this purpose today here in the UK. What’s more, we can see methods like this being used in the construction of some of the most iconic higher education buildings around the world, such as the Ivy League schools Harvard and Yale.
The Introduction of Card Games in China
Another form of gambling that appears to have first originated in China is card games. Card games made an appearance in Chinese history back in the 9th century, but it is not known exactly what the rules were of these games or how they were played as they did not appear like the packs of cards we see today. Some historians believe that these cards were used as a type of Chinese domino game, while others think that they could have been like trading cards that are still popular today.
Gambling in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece was also known for its love of gambling and can be traced back to around 500bc. The famous poet Sophocles wrote about the game of dice and even claimed that it was invented at the siege of Troy. While this claim about Troy is not thought to be a historical fact, Sophocles writing is the first time that it seems to have been mentioned throughout the history of Ancient Greece. Many historians now believe that the game of dice predated Sophocles work as dice were discovered inside an Egyptian tomb dating way back to 3000bc, making it even older than the gambling games discovered in Ancient China.
We now know that gambling was incredibly popular amongst the Romans and Greeks, but it was also illegal. If someone were caught gambling in the city of Rome, they would be given a fine of four times the amount they were betting. This is a significant part of the history of gambling, as this is where gambling chips were first invented! To get around the penalties of being caught gambling with real money, players would instead use these chips and claim there was no real money involved in the betting. This is, of course, something we still see used in land-based casinos around the world.
The Launch of Baccarat in Italy and France in the 1400s
Italy and France joined in on the gambling action back in the 1400s, so quite late on when compared to the Ancient Romans, Greeks and Chinese. Baccarat was the game of choice back then and is still today known to be the earliest game that is still enjoyed by players in casinos today.
The game was first played in Italy before moving to France and has undergone a variety of different changes to reach the game that we play now. The only version of the game that has not changed is the original, and this came from a combination of Britain, America and Cuba. Baccarat is still widely played today and is particularly popular with high rolling players.
Italy’s First Casinos
Italy’s first form of a casino dated back to the early 17th century and was used as a way to create a controlled gambling environment. One of the earliest examples we can see of casinos in Italy is back in 1638 when the Ridotto was launched in Venice as a government-owned gambling house. This was a wing of Venice’s Palazzo Dandolo, and while it was open to everyone, only the nobles could afford to go and adhere to the dress code. Its doors were closed in 1774.
The History of Blackjack in Europe and America
Blackjack is one of the most popular games in land-based and online casinos today, but did you know it first originated in 1600? There are many guesses as to when blackjack was first created and many believe it was around this time, while others have estimated that it was created a few decades earlier. It can be hard to tell as the names of the inventors are very rarely documented throughout history.
The predecessor to blackjack was a game named vingt-et-un that dated back to the 17th century. When many French people left to settle in the US, they took this game with them and so blackjack was born in America. The game became known as blackjack sometime around the 1930s in the state of Nevada as 10 to 1 odds were awarded to winners with a black Spades or Jack of Clubs plus an Ace of Spades. This was to entice new players to come and try the game; however, these odds were not around for much longer while the name blackjack stuck.
Roulette and Poker Origins in France
Another game that is widely played in casinos still today is roulette, and it has its origins in France. Paris had many gambling houses, and roulette was a staple in the 1800s. What is ironic, is that the game they played is now known as the American version of roulette is the European version was created around five decades later!
Throughout the 1800s, roulette became a massively popular game and was adopted in the iconic Monte Carlo casino. When it arrived at this casino, it used the version with one zero and so this became the version that was mostly played in Europe while America kept the original French version with two zeros. Most players choose the European version as there are better odds in your favour.
The Emergence of Poker
Poker is a mysterious game as no one is quite sure where it first originated. It is a game that has changed over the centuries to become what it is today, and we see elements of it in gambling games dating back to 17th century Persia and the French game, Poque. While versions of this game were most likely played around the world for centuries, the birthplace of poker is widely stated to be in New Orleans in 1829.
Poker was never a hugely popular game in the world of gambling as games of roulette and blackjack were most played. However, the home of gambling, Las Vegas, introduced poker tournaments in the 1970s, which created an explosion of popularity around the game. It also became hugely popular when poker became a televised event and when it launched online.
The First Slot Machines
The first slot machines were launched in New York but were more of a poker style game using 52 cards. Shortly after, the Liberty Bell machine was developed in San Francisco and became the footprint for future slot machines, which is why you will see the iconic bell symbol still in many slots today! What you may not know about these first slot machines is that there was no money to be won in them. Instead, players would win other items such as cigars. Money quickly followed, and slot machines were placed in not only casinos but bars too across the world.
The video slot that we all know and love was then launched in 1976 and has become the go-to slot game for players everywhere.
Online and Mobile Gambling
Fast forward to 2021 and online gambling and mobile gambling have taken the world by storm. The first online casinos were developed back in 1994, with world-class software developers such as Microgaming taking the lead in this new and exciting technology. In just five short years, the online gaming scene was transformed into an industry worth over a massive one billion dollars.
Nowadays, it is worth many more billions, with thousands of incredible online casinos to pick and choose from and offering a huge range of games including video slots, progressive jackpot slots and awesome live casino games so you can get the real-life casino experience all from the comfort of your own home. Live games were first launched in 2003 by Playtech and have become a huge online hit with many different software providers and variations of our favourite blackjack, roulette, baccarat and poker games available to play.
Playing Casino Games on Mobile
Mobile gambling is another form of online gambling that has become hugely popular in the past decade. This allows players to access all their favourite games on the go from their mobile devices. What’s more, there is no need to worry about sacrificing the quality of the games as the vast majority are developed using the latest HTML5 technology and so look just as great on mobile devices as they do playing from a laptop or desktop PC. Many online casinos are also now offering downloadable mobile apps on iOS and Android devices, giving you easy access to games with just the touch of a button. As mobile devices become the number one outlet for accessing and playing casino games, you can expect even bigger and better online casinos and game innovation.
The Future of Online Gambling
No one can predict the future of online gambling, but as we previously mentioned, the mobile gaming market is booming as more and more players opt to play from their mobile devices.
Another area of online gambling that looks like it could be the next big thing is virtual reality. This technology is now becoming commercially viable and is sure to be a big focus of the gambling industry in the coming years as players will be able to sit at a virtual poker table, blackjack table or stand and spin a virtual slot game all from a headset in their home. It would even mean you could meet up with friends at a virtual casino!
While this technology is just in its beginning stages, we could potentially see becoming mainstream over the next few years.