Gambling has been around for thousands of years and games of chance are just one of the evolutionary tendencies that we can't shake off. In the 21st century, people are just as divided about gambling as they were in the past.
Gambling was against the law in Egypt and gamblers were sentenced to forced labor camps. Gambling is considered to be a sin in Islam, Buddhism, and the Talmud. We take a look at the history of gambling and its institutionalization.
The Casino di Venezia, the world's oldest casino, is located on the Grand Canal in Venice. It was formerly a theatre named the Theatre Saint Moses, which contained a wing for gambling during play intermissions. It contributed to the development of a casino frenzy in Venice, where there were more than 120 by 1744.
When the first commercial casinos and gambling dens began to open around the 20th century, gambling became a well-established and prominent societal phenomenon.
It is difficult to put an exact date on gambling. According to most research, games of chance were played all over the world, even if the official laws did not allow it. Many of these societies, cultures and nations had no way of knowing each other.
The Bible states that Roman Empire guards bickered over Jesus' garments during the Crucifixion, and that Native Americans in North America would play a game similar to knucklebones. During the Achaemenid Empire, known as the First Persian Empire, games of chance were already well-established, but they went all the way back to ancient times.
The scientific evidence allows us to pierce through the veil of history and find tangible evidence that gambling was already available before written history existed. Around 3,000 BC, the cradle of modern civilization, the earliest six-sided dice was found in Mesopotamia.
Simpler versions of dice games emerged as part of Astragalomancy, which used knuckle bones to try and divine the future. Gambling came to be in the first place because of Divination, and is also an interesting look into how the institution of gambling conflicts with its stated purpose. Let's explain what's going on.
Astragalomancy, also known as astragyromancy, is a form of divination that uses dice specially marked with letters or numbers.
Gambling is a part of the divine predestination
Gambling remained popular even after the rulers banned the practice in many societies, especially in those that were more spiritual and venerated more deities to begin with. Guessing a divine plan was associated with gambling in the past.
Astragali were cast to satisfy a need to know what gods thought about one matter or another and not necessarily to deprive one man of their belongings. The dice were thrown to read the future, make important decisions, or make justice, not necessarily to split plunder or loot. That only arrived later. An interesting factoid is that the Swedish word for justice comes from a Greek word which means to throw.
People began to think that they can use dice to decide who is more deserving of one good or another, as we continued to collect and accumulate commodities and precious metals. Staking out things of value against random chance became more popular in modern societies after 2,300 BC, but rulers quickly realized that gambling was a vice in the sense that it deprived some and gave to others.
The activity was not well received by the emperors and monarchs, and they began outlawing it. Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists would all condemn gaming as a societal construct in the years preceding modernity.
Who was responsible for the invention of gambling after all?
Europe should be credited with the modern concept of gambling. Europeans who invented gambling in its most meaningful sense are the ones we see today. It was popularized by Americans who opened thousands of commercial casinos. In the history of the Old World, the games they introduced were already ingrained.
Baccarat began appearing in France and Italy around the 1400s and immediately became a hit with royalties and even some common people who had got their hands on a set of playing cards. The cards back then looked very different than they do now.
Other games would come to power in Europe. In one of his works, the author described a game that was similar to blackjack. One of the names of the game is "ventiuna", which is essentially twenty-one, one of the names of blackjack, because of the game's strongest combination being equal to 2021. That was back in the 1600s.
When the Ridotto opened for business in Venice in 1638, the first casinos appeared in Italy, cementing the modern institution of gambling in our collective history as a species. The years to come will be torn by wars, famines, pandemics, and other catastrophes, but one thing remained fixated - our propensity for gambling.
The Little Wheel of Paris was created at the beginning of the 1800s to describe the game of roulette, which became an immediate hit with locals and earned fame over the entire continent. The Monte Carlo Casino introduced a version of the game called "Single Zero" in order to introduce more people to gambling and give them a feeling that they have a chance of winning.
The United States was where the poker years ended. Poker became a game to settle differences from the 1830s onwards. The outlaws would play over their plunder and argue over their losses. The one-armed bandits started to appear in the 1890s. The end of gambling history was achieved in 1910 when Las Vegas was formed as the world's biggest hub for gambling.
What is the next thing about gambling?
It seems that gambling has gone a long way since the 1900s. The internet became a permanent fixture of the activity that was taken over the phone lines in the 1990s. Consumers are looking for new experiences in the 21st century and gambling will continue to evolve as a result. The original purpose of reading divine predestination was long forgotten, but gambling was always a part of our basic instinct as a living species. You can still have fun even though you can't expect justice at the gambling tables or even a glimpse at the future.
Gambling has been around for thousands of years and games of chance are just one of the evolutionary tendencies that we can't shake off. The cradle of modern civilization was Mesopotamia, where the earliest six-sided dice were found around 3,000 BC. Simpler versions of dice games were used as part of Astragalomancy.