The History of Gambling

The story of gambling is almost as long as human history itself. Our modern infatuation with the games echoes millennia spent honing and perfecting industry into the driving force that it is today. From the earliest attractions, which were centred on dice, animals – even just the flip of a coin – to the burgeoning libraries of the online casinos, the world of gambling is incredibly nuanced, and offers deeper insight into the lives that came before us.

The story of gambling is almost as long as human history itself. Our modern infatuation with the games echoes millennia spent honing and perfecting industry into the driving force that it is today. From the earliest attractions, which were centred on dice, animals – even just the flip of a coin – to the burgeoning libraries of the online casinos, the world of gambling is incredibly nuanced, and offers deeper insight into the lives that came before us.

Even here the best jackpot slots represent history still in the making – from a quiet beginning in Victorian-era Brooklyn, to the forefront of the online entertainment industry, it is testament to the game’s attraction that it only continues to grow in popularity almost one hundred and thirty years later. 

The Earliest Foundations

While the records are scarce, the earliest impression we have of organised gambling stems from the 1st millennium BC, in Ancient China, where records indicate a rudimentary form of the lottery, along with the use of dice, and a practice of betting on animals.

Fascinatingly, there are clues that point towards even earlier forms of gambling – as early on as the Palaeolithic period, when players would collect astragali (animal bones) with which to play dice games.

The Ancient World

It is not difficult to begin to see why gambling takes its roots in the distant past. More than just a field within gaming, gambling comprises an entire discipline. This discipline centres on luck, probability, inference and deduction – concepts which play with the fundamentals of philosophical stimuli that were preoccupying civilisations across the ancient world.

The Ancient Greeks and Egyptians would roll dice crafted from clay and ivory respectively, all while, thousands of miles and entire oceans away, the Aztecs would lose hours to games of Patolli. These games are depicted in ancient texts, papyri and artworks recovered over the centuries by archaeologists.

Gambling encouraged conviviality and friendly (or, sometimes, not so friendly) competition among neighbours, but they also allowed for introspection, and for the notion of critical thinking to take hold in a way that would not seem unfamiliar today.

The Middle Ages

The middle ages represent a dark and difficult point in human history, but they were not without their moments of respite. In a time when much of life revolved around the ephemeral, and the line drawn between plain-faced reality and the incorporeal was incredibly blurred, Gambling offered the perfect union of the two. The immediacy and pressure of rolling, betting, winning and losing married perfectly with those intangible qualities of the games: odds, chances, and luck.

Players would often place wagers of dice rolls and coin tosses, but there were also plenty of skill games to indulge in at the local inns:

The Enlightenment

By the 17th Century, we are able to observe records of the first dedicated, Western gambling establishment. The Ridotto Publicco, depicted here by Francesco Guardi in 1768, was situated within the Palazzo Dondalo in the heart of Venice; there, noble Venetians could gather together to play games like barbacole – a familiar precursor to blackjack and poker.

Within just a few years of the Ridotto Publicco opening its doors to the public, Blaise Pascal – a French mathematician – invented the roulette wheel, and Europe began to see the first wave of dedicated gambling houses welcome patrons looking to try their luck.

Modern History

By the mid-nineteenth century, the introduction of the Grand National and other sporting events still popular today collided with the use of the telegram, which enabled a widespread practice to take hold – particularly in London.Gambling became a prominent feature in great literary works from the likes of Emily Brontë and, later, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

In America in 1891, a new ‘gambling machine’ was created that would give rise to the slot machines that continue to draw in countless players today. The rising popularity of gambling would give rise to a more structured industry over the dawn of the 20th century, and in the wake of WWII, a new wave of investors would turn their sights on the now-infamous Las Vegas Strip. Some of the most daring architects in the world would come to create bold new designs for the luxury hotel casinos still graced by millions.

The Digital Age

The advent of the internet prompted a revolution within the gambling industry. By the latter half of the 1990s, the number of online casinos was growing exponentially – as was the sheer scope of games available to players, and the quality of the titles on offer.

For the first time in human history, players were able to play casino-quality games from virtually anywhere in the world, and over the decades that followed, the industry snowballed. Now, it holds a and innumerable fans across the globe, and continues to bring together.

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