History of Gambling

History of Gambling


The history of gambling goes together with the history of humanity. Have you been amazed at how humanity got to the joys of gambling, and how it has evolved over the years? Well, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we are about to discuss the interesting history of gambling throughout the ages.

It is a challenge to point out the exact origin of gambling because it is so old that it predates history. People have been gambling for thousands of years. We are not sure how gambling was exactly started, but there is still a wonderful history behind it.

Gambling is simply risking something of value as the result of an uncertain event with the aim of making a profit. That something of value doesn’t need to be money – you can gamble over who has to do the dishes, after all! This means gambling predates money. Now Let’s have a look at the history of gambling.


Globally there are many different types of gambling available. The main difference is between:

  • Social gambling where you play against other players, and
  • Commercial gambling is where you compete against the house.

Social gambling is simply wagering (betting). Naturally, when one person bets another that something will or won’t happen. The two parties agree on stakes, odds, and potential prizes, and it is up to the winner to enforce the result. People wager on anything, including Sports. Sports betting is now a massive worldwide commercial industry. No doubt people have been betting between themselves on sports as long as we have been playing them!

Dice games were the first kind of activity solely based on social gambling. At least, until the advent of modern playing cards. Card games became the dominant form of social gambling. Even today, poker is one of the most popular forms of social gambling.

Lotteries were likely the first form of commercial gambling. Table games, such as the forerunners of roulette and blackjack, appeared much later. More recently, games like bingo and keno have also been designed to entertain large crowds.

Advances in technology have always created new ways to gamble. Slot machines started out as mechanical “one-armed bandits” and evolved into video slots that can be played online in a completely digital form.

And the internet and mobile phones have heralded a new era of gambling (one that our ancient ancestors would not believe). Esports betting, which is essentially betting on confrontations of teams and players of specific video games, is a multi-billion dollar industry growing in the double digits every year.


Gambling has evolved alongside human civilization through the centuries. Let’s have a look at some of the key historic milestones in the very long history of gambling.

Prehistoric Era (up to 800 BC)

Gambling is older than history. Just like music, dance, or farming, nobody can exactly pinpoint when it first appeared.

Humans are always attractive by chance, and ancient societies often used randomness as a means of predicting the future. The casting of lots (cleromancy) is well-documented in ancient texts worldwide. Often, the knucklebones of sheep are in a similar way to how we use dice today.

In Ancient Mesopotamia, Dice are believed to have been invented around 3000 BC, based on these sheep bones. They became the most popular method of gambling for thousands of years. The ancient Indian Vedas from 1500 BC include a hymn called The Gambler’s Lament, about a dice player who would have played with four-sided dice made from the nut of the Bahera tree.

In Ancient China, betting on animal fights was very popular. Gambling houses were common as early as 1000 BC, with the last ruler of the Zhang dynasty infamous for wasting public money on drinking and gambling. the lottery-like game was being played in China as early as 2000BC.

Classical Era (800 BC – 500 AD)

The ancient Greeks loved to gamble. The Homeric Epics mention gambling often, and there is archeological evidence that there was plenty of betting in the ancient Olympics.

Gambling was illegal in ancient Rome, except on certain holidays, but was still very popular throughout the year. Their game of choice was dice, although sports betting was popular too. Huge amounts were wagered on the outcome of gladiatorial contests at the Colosseum. Gamblers faced a fine of four times the stake so consequently, they started playing for tokens instead, a forerunner of casino chips.

A lot of the gambling, at this point in time, had to do with combat sports and backing a fighter over another. Similar to what we have today with boxing and MMA betting.

Middle Ages (500 – 1,500)

Before the widespread adoption of playing cards as the dominant gambling tool, dice games such as Hazard were very popular.  Hazard eventually developed into the modern casino table game of Craps.

Native Americans also had many traditional gambling games before the arrival of the first European colonists. There is some proof that they had gambling houses in the 1200s (a cave with ten thousand objects related to gambling).

The Aztecs too had a big culture of gambling. Hernan Cortes played the dice game Totoloque against the emperor Montezuma after imprisoning him – and, to add insult to injury, is said to have cheated!

Early Modern Era (1500 – 1750)

As the middle ages gave way to the modern era, gambling became more socially acceptable for all classes. The golden era of European gambling began in the 1600s and lasted two centuries.

Gambling also was the inspiration for great advances in human knowledge. Giacomo Cardano’s book 1564 Liber de Ludo Aleae (“Book on Games of Chance”) is considered to be the foundation of probability theory and was based on his experience with gambling with dice.

This was just the beginning of our understanding of statistics and probability in gambling, which today become the basis of most scientific fields. Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat were the other forefathers of probability. They solve the gambling puzzles (in particular The Problem of the Points). 

Venice was the epicenter of the new gambling fever. The Ridotto is the first state-sanctioned public gambling house in European history, opened in 1638. It closed just over a hundred years later in 1744, but gambling did not go away and numerous private gambling dens known as “Casini” (from the Italian for “house”) sprung up to take its place. The term is the origin of our word “Casino”. 

Although the casino was born in Italy, many casino games were first seen in France, including roulette, blackjack, and baccarat.

Each had its genesis in earlier games. Roulette, for example, was based on Biribi, where numbered tokens were drawn from a bag. This developed into the English game of Roly-Poly which used an unnumbered wheel, then into Even-Odd (EO), and finally, the modern roulette game as we know it.

Blackjack came from a similar game called Trente-et-Quarante, which you can still play in some European Casinos. It then became Vingt-et-Un (or Ventti), followed by the game of Twenty-One, and eventually, Blackjack.

Modern Era (1750 – 1945)

In 1795, Harry Ogden became the first bookmaker, laying odds and taking bets on the horse races at Newmarket, England. Ogden worked out fixed odds for each horse and acted as the bank when taking bets from punters. Tote (aka parimutuel) bookmakers came much later, in 1867.

In 1837, France decreed that all gambling houses would close at the end of the year. They were profitable for the state but caused too many highly-connected people to lose fortunes obtained over generations. The last days of 1837 were chaotic as gamblers rushed to get their last fix.

A French casino operator named Francois Blanc moved to Monaco, taking over the existing casino and renaming it Monte Carlo. Blanc was also the creator of the single-zero Roulette wheel, which he introduced in 1842. This gives better odds to the player and is now the European standard, while the American version is double-zero.

In 1849, the Portuguese legalized gambling in Macau, China. Today it is the gambling capital of the world with annual revenues seven times larger than Las Vegas.

The American frontier was a hotbed of gambling. Poker was created in the Mississippi region sometime between 1750 and 1800. Community card poker came later, with Texas Hold’em thought to be invented around 1900. The popularity of poker and the inevitability of arguments led to saloon-keepers inventing the earliest casino chips.

The slot machine is being used in public in 1894. It was based on poker hands but did not automatically detect a win, with the punter having to go to the saloon keeper to get his payout. The 1899 Liberty Bell was the first with an automatic payout mechanism and it was an immediate success, spawning many copycats and the entire gambling industry.

Contemporary Era (1945 – Present)

Although Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, and Las Vegas granted its first gaming license to the Northern Club on Fremont Street a few weeks later, it wasn’t until after the end of World War II that Vegas became the premier tourist destination it is today.

In 1979, the first Native American casino opened in Florida, following a Supreme Court decision that confirmed that states could not regulate activities on reservations.

The first video poker machine appeared in the 70s but it was only in the 80s that they became extremely popular.

In 1994, the first virtual casino appeared on the internet. Planet Poker offered the first real money online poker room in 1998. Mobile phone owners were able to gamble from the year 2000 but this was text-message based at first.



Today the worldwide gambling industry is worth almost half a trillion dollars. Commercial gambling is the biggest type of gambling by revenue, although the total amount wagered informally could well be much larger but does not get recorded.

Online and mobile are clearly the future of gambling, especially in CGA GAmes, but it has been a bumpy ride so far. At the beginning of the 21st Century, a number of countries made online gambling illegal. In particular, the US cracked down hard, culminating in 2011’s infamous Black Friday.

However, today, some states have legalized online gambling for their residents. For most US citizens, online gambling remains a legal gray area. There are a few operators still willing to cater to them, but they are unregulated and many require cryptocurrency to load up funds to play on crypto gambling platforms, like bitcoin casinos. Here’s hoping for the legalization of online gambling at the federal level in the Land of the Free!

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