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The History of Gambling

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Gambling in some way or form has most likely been around since the very dawn of humankind. There is evidence of cave drawings depicting betting games that suggests that it has always been important, but origin of gambling cannot be pinpointed to where or how it began. It could be argued that it is simply a part of our nature. Let’s dive into the history of gambling and see how it all started.

Although definitive records are hard to find it is known that gambling has been part of our lives since ancient times and the Greek gods Zeus, Hades and Poseidon are even supposed to have split the universe sharing hell, heaven and the sea on a roll of a dice. Not all of us are such high rollers but it seems with the advance in technology, gambling is only getting more popular as more sections of society take up betting in some way or another.

Gambling at its most basic is the wagering of money – or something of value at least – on an event that has an uncertain outcome, with the reward being the winning of money or other goods. These days that may mean wagering your stake on Real Madrid winning the Champions League. In days gone by it would have been Native Americans predicting the outcomes of their harvests. Whatever the event in question, humans have always enjoyed attempting to predict the outcome with the promise of a reward. But where did all begin?

Dice for play
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History of Gambling Throughout the Ages

As much as it appears that mankind has probably always gambled in some way or another, the earliest evidence of gambling comes from ancient China around 2300BC. Tiles have been discovered that suggest a game of chance was played over 4000 years ago. The Chinese Book of Songs, a collection of poetry dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC, mentions a tile game that is somewhat like the lottery games we know today so this is maybe what it is referring to.

ancient greece
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It has been well documented that the ancient Greeks and Romans were very fond of gambling and there have been many discoveries proving that it was a big part of everyday life in those societies. A pair of loaded dice was even found in the ruins of Pompeii, which tells us that along with gambling there were also plenty of people willing to cheat to win. Gambling was so popular at the height of the Roman Empire that there was a law demanding that all children were taught how to throw dice.

Dice games seem to have been extremely popular all over the world throughout history but the first instance of card games being played comes, once again, from China in the 9th century. From the evidence we have it does seem that the games played bear no resemblance to the ones we know today but there was definitely an element of gambling involved.

Casino Royale

The first instance of a card game that is still known and played widely today is from the 1400s when baccarat is mentioned in papers from the time. Although not quite as popular as poker or blackjack with today’s gamblers, this two player card game can still be found in casinos  – online and physical – and is especially popular with high rollers.

Speaking of gambling houses, although places where people went specifically to gamble have been thought to exist for a much longer time, the first instance of a casino as we know them today can be traced back to the early 17th century in Italy. Apparently the chaos of carnival time in Venice in those times forced gamblers to set up casinos where they could bet in peace. By the 19th century these types of gambling houses were proving very popular throughout Europe.

Vingt et Un, an early form of the game we know today as blackjack, had already become widely played in France and roulette had now become a favourite of the casino crowd. The Monte Carlo casino adopted the single zero version and that led to its use across Europe (although the two zero game stayed popular in the United States).

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Poker was not as all pervading as it is today but by the early 19th century many casino regulars were enjoying the game – and its many variants. At about the same time the recorded use of the machines we now refer to as slots appeared in New York. The first machines were very complicated but the Liberty Bell machine that was developed in San Francisco was far simpler to use and completely took over the market. It is because of this machine that we still see bells commonly used as a symbol on slots and fruit machines to this day.

Betting Controls

But it was just after these innovations that gambling – at least in one part of the world – took a slight hit. The United States of America has always had a kind of love/hate relationship with gambling – probably something to do with the differing views of the early European settlers depending on whether they were puritans or just communities searching for a better life in the New World.

With the less tolerant sections of society gaining political might the prohibition era began across the country in 1910 outlawing gambling along with drinking alcohol. But this only pushed these habits underground where they carried on as popular as ever – if still illegal. Of course, across the rest of the world gambling and betting were just as popular as before and evolving as technology and sports became more a part of the general experience. The 1930s saw the end of prohibition just as Americans really started getting into betting on horse racing.

A Place to Bet

The 20th century saw gambling become increasingly popular with the masses as new laws were brought in in many countries making it more legal and regulated. In the UK a new gaming act in 1960 paved the way for betting shops and on May 1st 1961 the first high street bookie opened its doors. They proved so popular with the British public that there were 10,000 betting shops open around the country by the end of the year.

Casino game
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All this time gambling had still carried on much as before across all strata of society but the introduction of these betting shops focused the attention, particularly of betting of sports, to this communal space.

In America casinos were big news in the states that allowed betting with the glitz and glamour (and, it could be said, perceived danger) of the Las Vegas sites becoming the modern epitome of gambling in casinos – as much as the sophistication of their European counterparts.

Even with this rise in prominence of ‘official’ gambling it was still seen as something out of the mainstream with betting shops thought of as dark and dingy places attracting trouble and the high class of casinos out pricing regular society. It was the advent of sponsorship from the 1970s that really took the betting industry into the mainstream.


Tobacco and alcohol companies used recent legislation to their advantage at this time to sponsor big sporting events and the teams themselves, giving their industries a wider reach and a feeling among the population that these were acceptable companies. It is only in recent years that these laws have been reversed with the visibility of tobacco and alcohol companies much reduced. Gambling companies have stepped into the void and now it is a very common site to see many of the top football clubs in the world having their shirts emblazoned with a betting firm’s logo. This visibility has helped with the popularity of gambling at the same time as the arrival of one of the biggest reasons for its stratospheric upturn.

Log On and Bet

The first online gambling sites started appearing in the mid 1990s and although not as many people used the internet back then, they were an instant hit. One of the main attractions of betting online was that you no longer needed to brave a visit to a betting shop or an on track bookie. If that was a world that was alien to you the reputation it had would probably have put you off. But now you could gamble from the safety and security of your own home.

Although a miniscule number by today’s standards, by 1998 there were over 100 betting sites operating online globally. And it was about this time that the big betting companies in the UK entered the market. Casino games were obviously popular but it was sports betting where the new generation of gamblers gravitated towards.

This explosion in visibility and participation has completely changed the gambling industry. Before the year 2000 just 1% of the market was taken up with online betting, but by 2015 it had become more popular than the land based operations. Gambling is a multibillion industry and with the technological advances we are seeing in the online operations that figure will only increase in the years to come.

With betting companies able to circumvent national laws concerning tax and other legalities by having an online operation and basing their headquarters in more lenient states and countries, customers can now choose from a whole host of sites to gamble online securely. The reputations of these firms are beyond reproach and a much wider section of society now enjoy betting.

Mobile Betting

If the introduction of online betting sites was a game changer the next boom was brought in with the advent of mobile betting. As the popularity and uptake of mobile phones – and now tablet devices – grew, customers wanted to access their betting accounts whenever they wanted to. The betting companies listened and now the majority of the biggest bookies have either downloadable apps or sites specifically designed to be used on a mobile phone.

The increase in sports betting has been phenomenal with more money actually taken on football games than horse racing now. The technology has made aspects such as in play – or live – betting hugely successful. Because of the speed involved in online betting, more sports markets can be provided by the betting firms – ideal for an eager customer account base.

Although there are some regulations that prohibit gambling in certain locations around the world, there is much more freedom for people to choose the betting site they prefer and gamble accordingly. Whereas bookmakers would have been limited to the population in their specific vicinity, the internet has brought the world to them so their reach is limited only by the strength of a Wi-Fi signal!

Online gambling has tended to concentrate on sports markets and casinos – although politics is always a popular theme as well – and now the rise in popularity of e-sports has meant that even the big companies have started to introduce extra sections to their sites.

E-sports are basically video games that are played by gamers in matches or tournaments with online betting site customer account holders gambling on the outcome of an event in exactly the same way that they would for a football match – or how two Romans may have bet on the roll of a dice all those centuries ago.

The Future of Money is Bitcoin?

It is this constant innovation that keeps the betting industry relevant and why humans continue to be fascinated with predicting the outcome of an event – and hopefully winning some money for doing so! One other change in the way we gamble has been the introduction of different currencies. As we have seen, with global online betting companies there can be a choice of what currency you can bet with depending on where you live. But now there has been a further development to suit this borderless world.

Over the past few years more online punters have started to take advantage of betting with bitcoin. This entirely digital cryptocurrency seems perfectly designed to be used in an online environment, as there is no actual physical coin. There is also a limited number of bitcoins available (21 million) so inflation will cease to be a problem.

Some online gamblers are particularly fond of betting with bitcoin as it grants the users increased security as important card details and personal details do not need to be exchanged. There is also an anonymous aspect to bitcoin trading that is beneficial to some gamblers depending where in the world they live and how betting is perceived there.

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The Future of Gambling

With technology advancing the reach and scope of gambling all the time who knows what the future holds? Virtual reality is surely going to be part of the betting world as VR sets become more commonplace. Betting companies must already be working on applications that will allow you to be part of the action rather than just enjoy live streaming or ‘as live’ casino features.

Whatever is in store for us, it is obvious that even with futuristic technology enabling us to enjoy amazing new features and ways to bet, the basics of gambling will still be the same as they were thousands of years ago. In the end we will still be wagering money on the outcome of an uncertain event in the hope of earning a winning return. And that part of human nature will probably never change.

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