While nobody knows for certain when gambling first started we can say for certain that it has existed for over 5000 years, and possibly much longer than that.
The earliest six-sided dice were discovered in Mesopotamia (Northern Iraq) and date to approximately 3000BC. However, six-sided dice were based on astragali, a tool for divination that was in use for several thousand years before that. In China tiles dating back to as far as 2000 BC have been discovered that were most likely used in a form of gambling. By 1000 BC gambling was widespread in China and most Chinese cities had gambling houses. Meanwhile, in Rome, gambling was also a popular past-time. Wagering on dice as well as other games was common. Claudius, who eventually became emperor of Rome, in known to have actually written a book about dice throwing although it is now lost. Gambling was eventually prohibited in Rome, with strict financial penalties for those who were caught. To circumvent the penalty, citizens began using chips so in the event they were caught, they could deny that they were gambling for money.
Playing Cards and Baccarat
Playing cards are believed to have originated in China around 900AD, although there are those that believe they originated in Korea in the sixth century. By the 14th century, cards had made their way to Europe, through Italy. It is believed that Baccarat originated in Italy but another school of thought has it starting in France. The first written record of Baccarat is from the 19th century so it isn’t certain. The original version of Baccarat had four players, with each player having the opportunity to be the dealer/banker. Players could wager against both the dealer and each other. The French version of Baccarat was known as Chemin de Fer or “Chemmy” and was popular with King Charles VIII. Eventually the game spread to England as well as the Caribbean and South America. The rules evolved and the version played in Cuba eventually became what we have today with players playing only against the “bank”.
Italy was the site of the first gambling houses that could be considered casinos. The first casino, the Ridotto di San Moisé, was established in 1638. It was a privately-owned gambling venture that catered mostly to aristocrats and higher-class citizens as its high stakes and dress code made it inaccessible to the average person. The Ridotto eventually became the Casino di Venezia and is still in operation today with the title of world’s oldest casino. Casinos spread throughout continental Europe during the 19th century while in the U.S more informal gambling houses were popular.
The version of Roulette that is played today originated in Paris in 1796. The original version had both a “0” and a “00” and it wasn’t until the mid 19th century when Monte Carlo changed to the single zero wheel that the double zero was removed. Americans retained the double zero wheel so that version become known as American Roulette while the single zero wheel is known as European Roulette.
Poker got its start in the early 1800’s. It was initially based on the French parlor game, Poque, and was imported to New Orleans by French sailors and merchants. Joseph Crowell, an English actor reported on a recognizable version of the game being played in New Orleans in 1829. A British game called Brag also influenced the earliest versions of poker which was played with a 20-card deck. During the mid 1800’s poker started being played with a 52-card deck as it is today although there are now many game variations.
In 1891 Sittman and Pitt developed the first gambling machine. Based on poker, it consisted of 5 drums holding a total of 50 cards. Shortly thereafter in 1895, car mechanic Charles Fey invented the first mechanical slot machine, the Liberty Bell. With the introduction of the Liberty Bell, slot machine demand exploded. Charles Fey was unable to keep up with demand and soon many manufacturers were copying his machine. In 1976 Fortune Coin Co developed the first video slot machine. The games were a hit and in 1978 IGT purchased Fortune Coin and its video slot technology.
Viva Las Vegas
In 1931 gambling was legalized in Nevada but it wasn’t until 1941 that Thomas Hull opened the first casino resort, the El Rancho Vegas, on the Las Vegas Strip. In 1946, New York gangster Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo, which was the real beginning of the casino boom in Las Vegas. Las Vegas continued to grow and the 1980’s and 90’s saw the introduction of the large resorts like the MGM Grand, Treasure Island and many others. Las Vegas remains one of the most popular gambling destinations in the world today.
Enter Online Gambling
Online gambling made its first appearance in 1994, the same year Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade and Processing Act, which allowed licenses to be given to online casinos. It is believed that the first online casino was opened in 1994 through the combined efforts of Microgaming and CryptoLogic, an online security software company. By 1996 there were 15 online gambling sites, and that number increased to 200 in 1997. In 1998 the first online poker rooms were introduced and online gambling was off and running. The legalization of online gambling was a murky area in many countries with concerns that a lot of sites were out to defraud their customers. Progress has been made and many countries have legalized online gambling with options like joker123 and more.
Online Gambling to the Present
Technology has been a major drive behind the boom in internet gaming that brought us to where we are today. In 2013 PrimeDice launched the first online casino to accept Bitcoin, earning $15 million in its first 3 months of operation. In 2014 Bitcasino became the first fully-licensed online Bitcoin casino. Live streaming became feasible so online casinos could offer live dealer table games. Esports took off and CSGO gamble sites sprung up with games and sports betting focused on esports. The number of mobile users surpassed computer users and online gambling sites responded to this by offering apps and optimizing their sites for mobile devices, making it practical to use phones to gamble online from anywhere. With the huge revenues involved online gambling sites are quick to adopt and adapt to the latest technological advances and it will be interesting to see how the industry develops in 2021 and beyond.