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The evolution of gambling

The evolution of gambling

The history of human civilization goes hand in hand with the history of gambling, for as long as humankind has existed, some groups of people have always assembled to gamble. Plenty of evidence points to the existence of gambling in ancient times.

Gambling in ancient China

Some of the earliest material evidence of gambling games came in the shape of tiles, which were excavated in China, and anthropologists claimed they dated to around 2300 BC, and were used in Ancient China as some primitive form of game of chance. Some of the ancient written Chinese sources maintain that a regular pastime back in those old days was playing of board games.  Most frequently mentioned games in these sources was game Liubo.

Liubo, translated as “six sticks”, was played by two players. According to the descriptions of Luibo rules found in the lost Book of Ancient Bo   dated to the Jin Dynasty (265–420),   each player had six game pieces for moving along on a square wooden board with embedded symmetrical patterns.  Six sticks were used in order to determine the next move on the board. Thus, the sticks performed the function of a dice. The common belief dates the game origin to 1000 BC, whereas it reached its biggest popularity under the Han Dynasty.

In addition, according to many historical sources, early form of lottery existed in China from about 200 BC, as several artefacts resembling keno slips were discovered and dated to this period.

The ancient gambling spell of Egypt

There is a fair bit of evidence that shows that gambling in ancient Egypt as far back as 3000 BC to 4000. A pair of dice was unearthed from an Egyptian tomb dated to that time period. Another piece of evidence that points to the presence of gambling in ancient Egypt is the excavated papyri that had inscriptions containing laws made to halt the spread of gambling in this region.

Ancient Egyptians   also found the entertainment value of gaming by using                           knucklebones and dice for various games.  One of the earliest known board games in ancient Egypt is Senet, which is translated as “the game of passing” and has a close resemblance with backgammon.

It is believed that ancient Egyptians used knucklebones and dice to communicate with the gods. They believed that the result of a dice throw could make a celestial being give them answers to their questions.

Gambling on the streets of ancient Greece and Rome

Some references are made in Homer’s writings (between 8000 -12000 BC) and other ancient writers’ texts indicating that gambling games were also quite prominent in ancient Greece. Gambling even had the “divine support from Gods”. According to the Greek mythology, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon played ‘throw the dice’ in order to split the Universe between them.

Dice games, head and tails, and were played by different groups of ancient Greece.  When playing dice ancient Greeks used three clay cubes. Later in the Roman Era, the started playing the game with two dice, similarly to the way it is played today.

Heads and tails was played with a shell, and later on during the roman period, they started using coins. Ancient pieces of pottery from Greece and Rome depict betting on animal fights (including birds, chickens and dogs).

Romans were big gamblers, and gambled on all sorts of things despite the fact that all forms of gambling including dice games were prohibited in the ancient city of Rome. The authorities imposed a penalty on those who were caught gambling. Romans invented the first gambling chips to avoid penalties and show the guards that they did not use money.

The Venetian gaming leisure

However, the casino as one gambling establishment including a variety of options for people to gamble developed only in the 16th century. Gambling became a sweeping trend of passing time for rich aristocrats across Europe. Italian aristocrats often assembled in private clubs for rich people known as “ridotto”, which in Italian means “retreat, place of entertainment”, and engaged in gambling for leisure and having fun.  Actually, gambling was illegal; however, the government authorities did not go out of their way to penalize it and, often ignored nobles’ gambling parties. Poorer circles of society also gambled, although they gathered in much simpler places.

The government of Venice realized that gambling could be a great source of tax revenue for its coffers, and in 1638, they authorized opening of a large, public, four-story gambling establishment – The Ridotto- where people could play many different card games and order food and drinks as they played. The Ridotto was the world’s first government-sanctioned gambling house, and the word casino has the Italian root. The word “casa” in Italian means “house” and the word “casino” originally referred to a small clubhouse for Italians to meet in for social gatherings.

While in theory everyone was allowed to visit The Ridotto, in reality the strict dress code and the high stakes reduced the number of “The Ridotto’s” guests primarily to a the upper class citizens. The casino was also a celebrated venue for the Venetian carnival gatherings.

One of the most popular games at The Ridotto was biribi, which resembled a type of lottery game entailing 70 different possible outcomes. Basetta was another popular game, which represented a mix between blackjack, poker and gin rummy with odds of 60/1. Later on, the game was replaced by a similar game known as faro, which became quite popular later on in the United States

Further, along, the concept of a casino spread to Europe and, particularly, it assimilated well in France, where most popular modern casino games originated.

 

The gambling heritage of France

France has also made significant contributions to the evolution of gambling. The first gambling card games in France date back to the 1500s. The Queen was added to decks of cards, and the French card deck emerged as the precursor to the 52-card deck used worldwide today. The lottery has also been around in France since the 16th century.

The famous American Roulette takes its roots in France as well. The game originated in France in the 17th century, and in 1842, the Blanc brothers made the game even more popular by adding a zero to the wheel to increase the house odds. Another French game, which means twenty-one   (vingt et un), was introduced in France in the 18th century and further developed into a well-known today casino blackjack evolved. The 19th century saw a rise of pari-mutuel betting and baccarat across France.

Much of French gambling card games spread to neighboring Brittan and from there all the way over to the US with early immigrants from France settling down along Mississippi coast.

Poker goes global

Poker is believed to have ancient origins all the way back to nearly 1,000 years. Some historians suggest poker’s roots can be traced to a Chinese domino-card game played by a 10th-century Chinese emperor; others argue that the game evolved from the Persian card game called “As Nas” around the 16th century. Poker’s The closest resemblance with the Poker we know today derives from the 16th century Spanish game Primero, which was based on dealing three cards  to each player and  betting high lower-ranked cards. Later in the 17th century, the game spread to France and Germany, where it took on names as Poque and Pochen, respectively.

French colonists that settled in North America brought Poque to New Orleans and Louisiana. Further along, by 1834, under the English-speaking settlers’ influence the name Poque transformed to poker, and the game adopted features of the modern poker, comprising a 52-card deck and dealing five cards for each player English.

Poker quickly spread throughout the US primarily with crews of traders travelling along the Mississippi River. During the Civil War of 1870-1880ies, poker became part of Wild West saloons in frontier settlements. The game was widely played by soldiers in both the North, and the South. In 1871, the poker made its way to Europe with the US diplomatic delegation travelling to Great Britain. One of the US ministers explained the rules of the game to members of Queen Victoria’s court.

The Slot Revolution

Over time, poker has evolved into various types  beyond five-card draw to include seven-card stud, and by 1970-ies —Texas Hold’em, which became the featured game in the World Series of Poker, the game’s contemporary, well-renowned annual competition.

The first coin-operated slot machines appeared in the United States in 1890s. The first poker-gambling machine was developed by the New York based company, Sittman and Pitt in 1888. It had five drums with 50 playing cards. The machine was set into motion by pulling the handle manually. A player had to line up card suits to form poker hands on the drums in order to get a win. The machines were placed in saloons and bars. These first machines did not have a direct payout mechanism, and winnings were paid at the bar. Usually, the payouts were in the way of free drinks and cigars.

In 1894, Charles Fey from San Francisco invented the Card Bell machine. This machine turned out much more practical as it was fitted with the mechanism for regulating winnings, and marked the onset of the real slot game era. The Card Bell slot machines proved to be so successful at a local saloon in San Francisco, that soon Frey opened a factory to produce more machines. In 1898, he built another model – the Liberty Bell. Its reels depicted symbols of card suits, horseshoes and bells. It was the first three-reel slot machine with automatic cash payouts.

By 1909, the Liberty Bell proved to be so popular, that in San Francisco alone, the number of slot machines exceeded 3,000. This prompted Fey’s competitors such as the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago to start copying his product.

The authorities and the church tried to ban the pervasive spread of gambling through slot machines, but Fey and his competitors continued building machines with no coin slots. Purchases and payouts were handled over a saloon counter, and winnings were redeemed in drinks, cigars and chewing gums. . Soon the bulk of slot-machine production moved to Chicago, where Mills Novelty Company started making gaming machines with fruit symbols, marketing them as chewing gum dispensers.

In 1910 all gambling in the US became outlawed. Nevertheless, throughout the times of the Prohibition and the Great Depression, slot machines continued to advance across the USA, and nothing could stop their growing popularity.

After World War II, slot machines gained worldwide popularity as governments liked the prospects of enhancing tax revenues for its coffers. Thus, in 1988 slot machines were allowed in French casinos. In the 1950s, electromechanical slot machines were modified for new payout schemes to include 3- and 5-coin multipliers, which made the sizes of the payouts proportional to the number of inserted coins.

In 1986, the innovative concept of “super jackpot” electronic systems was invented in the US. The concept was based on linking multiple slot machines in various locations to allow a portion of each sum of coins inserted in these machines to go to a shared “super jackpot” prize fund.  For instance, in 2003 a Las Vegas slot machine paid out close to $40 million.

Since the beginning of the 1990-ies, the global gambling industry has seen a new wave of growth with the emergence of online gambling. Within twenty years online gambling has grown into a multibillion dollar industry with over a thousand online casinos operating all over the world. Around the turn of the millennium, the popularity of online slot games software from companies such as Microgaming and Playtech exploded at an unprecedented pace. They started out as simple three-reel digital fruit machines, and over a decade advanced into 3D slots with various bonus features offering players instant cash prizes,  bonus wheels, free spins rounds and others.

 

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