Online gambling may be relatively new, but gambling itself isn’t. The history of gambling spans thousands of years. From the present day to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese, where money’s been available, gambling has never been far behind.
This guide gives you a brief, yet concise, history of gambling. It charts this history of this ancient hobby through its various key stages, through to the emergence of online gambling.
It might not give you the edge at the table. But by better understanding its origins, this can only deepen your interest in gambling, and online gambling, as a whole.
It’s not entirely clear where or when gambling first emerged. Historical evidence suggests it’s been with us for thousands of years, and that most of the great ancient civilizations gambled. In reality, gambling is probably as old as civilization itself. As history has shown us, where groups of people have congregated to trade and socialize, gambling has usually been close in tow.
Despite this, you’d be amazed at just how much modern and ancient gambling games are alike. In recent times, ivory dice have been discovered who’s origins can be traced back to 1500 BC China. This means there’s a strong possibility Jesus Christ, or some of his disciples, may have played craps.
Writings referring to gambling were found in the pharaohs’ pyramids. We also know that the ancient Greeks, Romans and Indians frequently past the time by gambling. While in the Middle Ages, gambling was so popular that King Henry VIII of England banned his soldiers from gambling, as it kept many of them off work.
Card games are know to have originated from ancient China. Alongside paper, and paper money, card games are our favorite Chinese invention! It is believed an early form of cards first appeared in Europe in the Fourteenth Century, most likely via North Africa.
However, it was the French who perfected the now standard 52-card deck around 1480. So gambling folklore goes, after a battle against a Muslim army, a deck of cards was stolen from a fallen Muslim soldier by one of the French. This deck had kings, jacks, jokers but no queen. The French then added a queen. This became the basis for the 52-card deck we all know now.
As gambling developed more of a foothold in society, quick-thinking entrepreneurs identified it as a viable business in itself. As gambling started to take off, gamblers would flock to those locations where it took place. This demand ultimately resulted in enterprising businessmen opening up dedicated gambling establishments all over the known world.
The first known casino opened its doors in Venice, Italy at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century. Casino itself is Italian for ‘small villa’. In the Nineteenth Century, casino became collective term for public buildings where gambling and sports betting took place.
At first, casinos only offered gambling. Visitors came to the casino to gamble on a wide variety of casino games. This remained the case until the Nineteenth Century, when casinos became entertainment centers in themselves. At this point, casinos started offering drinks, meals and live entertainment. This changed not only the experience, but also the image of casinos. Rather than being dingy gambling dens, they became places where people could go for a pleasant evening out.
As the popularity of gambling has grown, so has the sums of money involved in it. While this has been great for legitimate players, the sheer amount of money involved has also attracted less savory types, too.
Such people aren’t interested in playing fairly, and will try to get at the money by any means necessary – whether that’s cheating the casino, or stealing from legtimate players. In response to this, casino security has had to be continually improved.
Modern casinos take security very seriously. Big casinos are monitored by literally hundreds of CCTV cameras. These cameras cover every angle, and are monitored by operators. Floor walkers also patrol the gambling floors. The majority of problems tend to come from thieves, cheaters and card counters.
Security is also something the online gambling industry takes very seriously. As a result, reputable casino websites are among the most secure on the web. If they weren’t, people would never sign up, let alone deposit money in their accounts!
Online gambling was first introduced in the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda at the end of 1994. Antigua was the first country to pass a law which made it possible for operators to apply for licenses. And although other countries around the world have passed similar laws since, a lot of major operators are still based in Antigua. So remember this - Antigua was the island where the history of online gambling began!
Microgaming is one of the online gambling industry’s true pioneers. Even before the first online casino opened in 1995, Microgaming had developed some revolutionary new online casino software. This was subsequently used by hundreds of the online casinos which followed.
The first online casino ever was Intercasino. Intercasino launched in 1995, and remains active in the online gambling industry to this day.
One thing that has plagued online gambling since its inception is the question of its legality. The United States especially has frequently expressed concern about its potential impact on its citizens.
Traditionally, the US always has always been a strong opponent of the online gambling industry. However, attitudes have been changing of late – especially as online gambling’s continued growth at a time of economic uncertainty means it could be a valuable source of tax revenue.
One of the darkest days in the short history of online gambling in the USA was the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) by congress in 2006. The UIGEA obliged financial institutions to block transactions related to online gambling.
Since the introduction of the UIGEA, financial institutions have complained about the law’s practicality. Such institutions argue that it’s impossible to block gambling related transactions without blocking regular consumer transactions as well. This means a big loss for the country’s E-commerce.
From its humble beginnings in the Caribbean, online gambling has transformed into a billion Dollar industry. Despite the well-documented troubles with the global economy, and the best efforts of laws like UIGEA, online gambling revenue has continued to grow.
In 2010, online gambling generated revenues in excess of $29 billion. And with many Western governments in the process of legalizing gambling, this is expected to grow further still.
Next chapter: The Psychology of Gambling