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A Basic History Of Casino Games

Discover just how far back humanity’s history with gambling really goes. Explore a rough timeline of the major developments in the history of casino games.

From Prehistoric Dice To Video Slots: A Rough History Of Casino Games

It seems that we humans have had a thing for games of chance for about as long as we’ve been walking upright. Throughout the historical record, even before casinos existed, casino-type games have been played.

Although it is by-no-means exhaustive, the following timeline should give you a good idea of just how far our love of casino games goes… and how we got to where we are today.

A Basic History Of Casino Games

Prehistory – 3000 BC, Mesopotamia: Six-Sided Dice

The oldest pair of dice ever discovered is over 5,000 years old. They were unearthed by archeologists in Iraq and date all the way back to 3000 BC, when the region was still known as Mesopotamia.

But the origins of die go back way further than that. As it turns out, these Mesopotamian die were based on designs from the late Paleolithic era, which ended some 11,000 years ago.

2300 BC, Ancient China: Lotteries & Simple Games of Chance

There is considerable evidence to suggest that gambling was a popular pastime in Ancient China. This includes tiles, later unearthed by archeologists, suggesting the existence of a crude game of chance. Moreover, reference to “the drawing of wood” in the Chinese Book of Songs may reference a type of lottery.

Ancient Greece & Rome: Mythical Die and Law-Skirting Gambling Chips

In Ancient Rome, founded in 753 BC, gambling was enormously popular. So popular, in fact, that the city of Rome outlawed all forms of gambling for a time. Illicit gamblers attempted to skirt the law, which entailed a fine of four times the wagered stake, by developing gambling chips.

Later, in around 500 BC, writings of the Greek poet Sophocles attributed the invention of the dice to a mythical hero and the siege of Troy. Whether or not you buy the fantastical theory, Sophocles’ writing shows that the Ancient Greeks used die.

Circa 800 AD, China: From Card Games To Keno

The general consensus among historians is that playing cards originated in 9th-Century China, although theories on their usage do vary. Some suggest these cards were used a bit like modern baseball trading cards, whilst others believe they were like paper dominoes.

Additionally, keno slips dating back to around 200 BC indicate the existence of a kind of lottery to fund Chinese state projects, which may have included the construction of the Great Wall of China.

1400s, Italy & France: Beginnings of Baccarat

The earliest historical mention of baccarat, one of the oldest card games still played today, was in the 15th Century. This was at the point when the game made its migration from Italy to France.

Over the ensuing centuries, this early incarnation of baccarat continued to evolve and migrate. The version we know today originated in Cuba, before spreading to Great Britain and then the US.

Early 1500 – 1930s, Spain, France & USA: Blackjack Is Born

There is some disagreement among historians about the origins of blackjack. The main contenders are France’s quinze (early 1500s), Spain’s trente-un (1570), and Spain’s ventiuna (1601). Nevertheless, the 17th Century French game of vingt-et-un is universally agreed upon as the direct antecedent of modern blackjack.

Notably, the name “blackjack” only emerged in 1930s America, as part of a marketing tactic employed by Nevadan casinos.

1638, Italy: The Emergence of Gambling Houses

The first gambling establishments comparable to modern-day casinos emerged in 17th-Century Italy. The most famous of these, the Ridotto, was established in Venice in 1638 as a controlled environment for gambling during carnival season.

1600s – 1829, Persia, France & the US: The Origins of Poker

The organic evolution of poker makes its exact origins near-impossible to ascertain. Possible ancestors include a 17th-Century Persian game and the 18th-Century French game of Poque. In any event, by 1829, a recognizable version of the game was being played in New Orleans.

Of course, it wasn’t until the 1970s, with the introduction of televised world tournaments, that poker really came into its own.

1796, France: The Little Parisian Wheel

Double-zero roulette, in its modern form, was invented in Paris during the late 1800s. Half a century later, the European roulette wheel, with only one red number instead of two plus a green zero, was developed. Today, double-zero roulette is referred to as American roulette and is the most popular variation.

1894 – 1976, USA: Birth of The Liberty Bell and Poker Machines

In 1894, Charles Fey invented the Liberty Bell, the world’s first slot machine, featuring bells on reel drums. At roughly the same time, New Yorkers Sittman and Pitt developed a sort of poker machine, with the cards represented on the drum reels. These days, just about everyone loves to play slots.

1910 – 1930s, USA: From Prohibition to the Great Depression

By the mid 1800s, while casinos had become commonplace all over continental Europe, informal gambling establishments were gaining popularity in the US. That is, until prohibition put on the breaks in 1910.

At this time, the government caved to puritan pressure and imposed a national gambling ban. Of course, this ban was nearly impossible to enforce. Instead, the practice simply shifted to illegal gambling houses. Popular locales for such establishments were steamboats on the Mississippi River, the perfect setting for skirting the law.

In 1929, however, all of this changed. With the Wall Street Crash and ensuing Great Depression came crippling poverty. As a partial remedy, several US states legalized gambling once more. The lavish Las Vegas Strip is thus an indirect product of the Great Depression.

1976 – Present Day, USA & Worldwide: Ongoing Technological and Regulatory Evolution

In 1976, the world’s first video slot was introduced to the world. Gambling had entered the digital age and, by the mid 90s, had expanded into the online sphere.

In essence, casino games have not changed much in the last couple of decades. The main changes in the online gambling casino world these days relate either to technological advancement or regulatory amendments. As technology continues to improve, casino entertainment will become ever-more immersive.

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