When and how did gambling begin?

The history of gambling dates back to antiquity. Archaeological excavations show that bingo already existed in Ancient Egypt, and dice games existed in Ancient Greece and Rome.

After the invention of the mechanical gambling device in 1532 in Venice there was a boom in modern prototypes. In the 16th century, the first gambling houses started to appear in France and Spain, and in 1638 the first law on the subject was passed. During the reign of Louis XIV, gambling was banned, but was again allowed in 1710.

The first gambling establishments were baths and temples where battles were fought. In some cults, such establishments were forbidden, so priests were forbidden to visit them. In addition, in places where gambling was forbidden, the priests had to pay a lot of money to attend them. Therefore, the priests often had to place bets on various items in order to gamble on something. And since the stakes were quite high, the winnings often outnumbered the losses.

Archaeologists have found artifacts confirming the existence of this type of entertainment as early as the 3rd millennium B.C. Many historians argue that the first casino-like entertainment appeared around 6,000 years ago. At that time, gambling houses with a roulette wheel were built in Ancient China and since then, it has been considered one of the symbols of casinos. Written records of roulette have since survived. In the II-I centuries BC in China, roulette was already in wide use. It came to be called a game of dice.

Although many people would argue that slot machines and casinos are relatively recent, their history is not that short.

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans loved to play craps.
  • As early as World War II, the US Army used various gambling activities as entertainment for soldiers.
  • And at the beginning of the twentieth century, they became hugely popular among civilians as well.

Betting in casinos is all about gambling. Let’s not talk about where this need came from — it’s a long history, and you and I know that once people played dice, and then began to use cards, some in dominoes, and some in bingo. It only seems that gambling is always about money, in fact it is not. Online gambling was available even before there was money. Now, of course, it’s a game with money stakes.

Gambling in antiquity

Almost all ancient cultures have elements of gambling. Archaeologists continue to find objects confirming their existence and popularity among ancient peoples. Today, people play online casinos for money. The list of modern gambling games is diverse. They differ in rules, degree of difficulty, possible winnings.

In ancient times, people also made bets in gambling; they won or lost valuable items. Dice, stones, dice and shells were the main elements in games of chance.


Archaeologists have often found dice during excavations of ancient settlements. Elements can even be found in burials.

The dice were the most popular gaming object of ancient times. The rules of the game were as simple as possible:

  • the cube was tossed;
  • the number of dots on the sides was counted;
  • the winner was determined by the highest number of points.

At first, cubes were tossed with hands, after that small cups were used for their mixing.

The materials used to make the ancient dice were varied — bone, minerals, precious metals (often gold).

The ancient Greeks believed that dice was pleasing to the gods. This belief was later shared by the Romans, who adopted the game from their neighbours. But in the Roman Empire gambling became so popular that the government had to introduce a law banning them. This happened in the III century BC.

The ancient Germans also indulged in gambling. So addicted to them, they were willing to put their «freedom, body» on the line, as Tacitus wrote.


Ancient people liked to play chips. Current excavations confirm this. Archaeologists have found chips in the pyramids of Egypt.

The ancient Greeks also liked to play them. It was thought to have been invented by Palamedes during the siege of Troy, which lasted 10 years. The game is similar to modern-day draughts. Chips were placed on a board divided into coloured squares. The task of the players was to surround the opponent’s playing pieces — bringing them to a state of ‘still stones’.

The game in its original form could be afforded by wealthy people. Others used a grid drawn on the ground, clay crocks.

Other elements

It wasn’t just dice and chips that ancient people used for gambling.

In ancient Greece, they liked to play shells. The conditions were simple. The Greeks would collect them and colour them — one side white and the other black. One of the players would toss a seashell and the others had to guess which colour would come out. Bets were placed on the outcome. «Shells are similar to the modern eagle-eye game.

In gambling ancient people were not only dice, chips, stones, shells, but also food. For example, the ancient Greeks enjoyed the popular entertainment «kottab». It was played during feasts and celebrations. The rules were as follows: one of the players did not finish the wine, but unwrapped the rest and tried to get it into a special vessel called a cottab. The ancient Greeks liked the game so much that they even built special buildings for playing kottab.

Ancient people loved to play with stones. One popular pastime was «odd-even». A player clutched small stones in his hand and another had to guess the number to say whether the number in his hand was even or odd.

Apart from playing elements, ancient people liked to hold cockfights and bet on them. The people of Corinth were considered to be the most gamblers in ancient Hellas.

The first casino in the world

The history of gambling goes back hundreds of thousands of years. During archaeological excavations, scientists have found prototypes of dice that predate our era. It is assumed, that originally these attributes were necessary for carrying out magic rituals and divinations, and only then they became a part of gambling entertainments.

In the times of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, a mass culture of gambling was formed. In the 6th century BC, the Circus was established as an establishment where guests could play dice, make bets, and wager money.

Ancient China and India contributed to the formation of gambling. This can be seen in the Rigveda, a collection of religious hymns, rules and texts. It discusses dice and other such amusements. Since then, gambling establishments have become an industry. Every corner of the world had a place where an avid gambler could place a bet and win big.

The next phase of casino development began during the Renaissance. In Italy, institutions that offered card games to their guests became incredibly popular. It was Venice, in the mid-17th century, that saw the opening of the first legal casino. It was called Il Ridotto.

It was here in Italy that the term «casino» was coined. Translated from Italian, the word means «small house». The name comes from the fact that the first gambling houses were opened in private homes. Often, apart from gambling, the public was entertained by music, dancing, food and drinks.

It is believed that the casino was opened to entertain people during the Venetian Carnival period. Only the noble, wealthy and able to wager huge sums of money could come to the place. The casino had a strict dress code and certain rules of conduct. The state benefited from the casino’s existence because the casino owners paid high taxes. Over time, however, the institution was closed. The decisive role in this matter was played by the Church, which expressed a negative attitude to such events. The church took a decisive stand on this matter, and the state ultimately passed laws prohibiting all forms of gambling.

Despite the condemnation by the church and prohibition by the authorities, casinos expanded beyond Italy’s borders with breakneck speed

In the second half of the 18th century, the first casino opened in France. Thus minister Giulio Mazarini planned to replenish the treasury with new tax revenues. The French loved gambling entertainment, especially roulette, which was a novelty not previously seen in that casino.

But it was not only in France and Italy that such establishments opened. Gradually casinos were opened all over Europe. The wealthy could come here and place large bets. Due to the popularity of gambling, the prize pool was large enough to attract more and more visitors.

The flowering of European casinos took place in the 19th century. Now it was not a small room in the private homes of wealthy people, but a huge room with luxurious interior and impeccable service. The cream of society gathered here, not just to meet at the gambling table, but also to socialise with friends and discuss vital political issues. Those who preferred big-money games were invited to separate rooms where games were held for a select few. However, despite their enormous popularity among wealthy citizens, by the end of the 19th century most casinos were closed. This was due to the introduction of legislative amendments. The only place where it was still possible to relax at your favourite game was Monte Carlo. This is the administrative territory of the Principality of Monaco. Casino bans did not apply there.

In the United States of America, gambling was growing as well. True, not as fast as in Europe. However, over time, the experience gained allowed the United States to create the unofficial gambling capital of the world — Las Vegas. This is the place where many 24-hour casinos and other entertainment venues are located today. There are restaurants, hotels, museums, shopping centres, sports arenas, art galleries and exhibition halls. World-class artists perform on concert stages.

Macau is the modern Asian capital of gambling. Sometimes this city is called the «oriental» Las Vegas. Dozens of casinos function here.

Gambling can be traced back to ancient times

Scientists tell us that the notion of gambling is not new, and has been around for over a thousand years. But it’s rather difficult to build a coherent picture of gambling’s evolution.

Archaeologists often find artifacts used in gambling in the remnants of material culture. Dice was originally the most common game around the world. The oldest bones discovered are around 4,000 years old. By the way, the word ‘gambling’ itself is of Arabic origin, from ‘azzahr’ meaning ‘dice’. Often figures, drawings on stones or ceramics depict people or gods throwing dice (dice — astragalus is a talus or interphalangeal joint of a sheep or a dog) and using counting boards to count the results of the game.

Many excavations of prehistoric human sites from even earlier times have found large quantities of babka. It is possible that 40000 years ago people were throwing these dice in games of chance, but the rules and procedures of these games are not entirely known.

Dice were used for both tossing lots and gambling. For example, the Aryan invaders of India in the 2nd millennium BC were very fond of gambling.

The dice game of vibhidaka nuts was popular among all castes except the very religious people. The Rigveda, a collection of Vedic hymns, contains a poem entitled «The Gambler’s Complaints», in one stanza of which the god Savitr is quoted: «‘Do not play dice, but plough your furrow! Find pleasure in your property and value it highly! Watch your cattle and your wife, you despicable gambler!» — Thus says the noble Savitr to me.»

Cards originated in India. Ancient Indian cards were round and had eight suits, with a deck consisting of 96 cards. The principle of the game was more reminiscent of chess than modern cards. Among European countries Italy is the first to lay claim to the peninsula, where cards are mentioned already in the documents of the second half of the XIV century. In Italy, according to researchers, the oldest card game — tarok — was invented. A lot of references to gambling are found in folk tales of different cultures around the world.

Greek and Roman myths mention the god of gambling, or the god of luck. The Irish and Scots have tales of extraordinary wagers or bets not claimed by the winners. But the most numerous dramatic gambling stories can be found in the folk literature of Asia, including Southeast Asia, Japan, the Philippines and India.

In Asia, there are many folk tales of men using their own wives, sisters, daughters, their own bodies or body parts as stakes in gambling. Some of these legends are of ancient origin, some telling of gambling with the gods, while others are entirely secular in nature. Another continent rich in folk tales of gambling is North America. Of all the fairly researched gambling peoples, half are North American Indians. Roman emperors loved to play craps and did so quite often, especially Augustus and Claudius. But common Roman citizens were only allowed to play dice during certain seasons.

Throughout the Middle Ages, church officials and kings attempted to eradicate gambling, and their failures serve as proof of the endurance of the craving for gambling excitement. In 1765, the first roulette gambling device appeared in France. The authorship is attributed to police officer Gabriel de Sartine, who wished to invent a game of chance where cheating would be impossible.

According to another version, roulette is the result of a failed experiment by the French philosopher and mathematician Pascal, who tried to create a perpetual motion machine. The first casino was opened in 1863 by Charles Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco. The Italian word itself means ‘country house’. Slot machines, popularly known as ‘one-armed bandits’, were invented by American mechanic Charles Fey in 1895. They are now an essential attribute of any casino, as well as card games such as blackjack and poker.

Thus, by the early twentieth century all the main games of modern casinos had been invented. What was left to be done was to legalize them. And here in the first row was… puritanical America. In Nevada (it remains to this day the only state in America, where casinos are legalized), Las Vegas was built, which is now considered to be the gambling capital. But the main business is done underground, with illegal gambling houses generating fabulous profits for their owners.