Gaming is so readily available nowadays, thanks to advances in technology which allows us to play our favourite games wherever we are as well as having the freedom to go to land-based casinos, but it hasn’t always been this easy to indulge in a game or two. The history of gambling is littered with obstacles and prohibitions that fortunately are a thing of the past! So, let’s dig a little deeper into the history of gaming – from the first games known to man right through to where we are today. Lucky Nugget Casino are here to bring you a thorough look at the evolution of gambling.

Ancient gaming



The earliest forms of gaming date as far back to 2300 BCE, astonishingly. These games were discovered in ancient China where players would use tiles to play games of chance; whereas the first pair of dice was unearthed from an Egyptian tomb in 3000 BCE, we can’t be sure they were used for gaming.

The first mention of dice in Greek history didn’t come along until 500 BCE when Sophocles claimed dice were invented by a mythological horse during the Siege of Troy. Even throwing a double six – something you often seek when rolling dice – dates back to ancient Greece. Then, if you rolled two sixes you would have been lucky enough to land a ‘throw of Aphrodite’ and you would have won your game.

Generally gambling games were popular – such as head or tails and other games that focused on luck. It was possible to go to a designated place to play these games – a bit like the casinos we know and love – but there was a stigma around visiting. These places had a bad reputation and if you went then you were considered shameful. Although, there was support from some of the ancient Greek Gods: in Greek mythology, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon decided to split the universe between them by playing ‘throw the dice’.

The Ancient Greek heroes, Ajax and Achilles, were also partial to some games of chance. The image above is from a vase, that shows the two heroes throwing some dice together.

Within the ancient city of Rome, all forms of gambling were banned – and this included dice games. A penalty would be imposed to gamers worth four times the stake being bet, which is a pretty big fine for small-time gamers back in the day! But residents of ancient Rome came up with a brilliant idea to get around this little hiccup in the history of gambling.

Chips were invented to play with so technically gamblers weren’t playing with money at all, so they couldn’t be fined for it. This idea is of course something we still see today in gambling – a genius idea that has lasted through the ages! ‘Heads and tails’ had been played with a shell, but during the Roman period it was played with a coin – which is still how we play it today.

And sports betting was still allowed. People placed wagers on would would win chariot races, or survive longest in a gladiator fight in the arena.

The earliest playing cards


As far as playing cards themselves, they are an ancient Chinese invention. Chinese civilisation is the reason that paper exists, and thus they are responsible for the creation of paper money. Soon, people learned how to shuffle paper money which lead to the notion of shuffling playing cards. In China, the game called ‘keno’ become increasingly popular – the game is played with cards that have numbers 1 to 80 in squares. To play the game, players could choose a set of numbers which followed a draw in order to identify the winning numbers.

By 900 CE, there appear to be cards that were decorated with human likeness: this idea also became popular in Europe. The Europeans opted for something more regal and chose to put queens and kings on their deck of cards – which is where our royal face cards come from.

The origins of casino games


Casino games stretch as far back as 1400s: the earliest game in casinos was a two-card game called baccarat, a game that migrated from Italy to France. The comparing card game is played between two hands – one of the player and one of the banker. Three outcomes are possible in baccarat – player, banker or tie.

Blackjack appeared in the 1600s; as a game named ‘ventiuna’ (21) in a book by Don Quixote. The French version vingt-et-un is a direct relative of the game we know and love today. As you can see, blackjack wasn’t known as that back then.

Blackjack was a term coined in America when gambling was made legal in 1931: it was a promotional term in Nevada. When 21 was introduced to the US, there were bonus payouts used in order to promote the game. One of the payouts in question involved a special 10 to 1 bonus if the player had a hand consisting of an ace of spades in addition to a jack of spades or clubs; a ‘black jack’. The bonus went away, but the name has stayed around ever since!

Poker is one of the best loved games in the world – both in land-based casinos and online – but do you know where it originated from? Back in 1829, Joseph Cromwell reported a recognisable version of the game that was being played in New Orleans, with a deck of 20 cards and four players. An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling by Jonathan H. Green says the game of poker spread through America by Mississippi riverboats; spreading north along the Mississippi River and to the West during the gold rush.

The growth of the game didn’t truly expand until the 1970s. This is thanks to the World Series of Poker which began in 1970 in Las Vegas – it saw the seven best poker players in America battling it out for the title of best player in the country. The accolade was won by Johnny Moss after a cash game session; Moss won a silver cup rather than a famous WSOP bracelet though, as the bracelet wasn’t established as a prize until six years later. This may have raised the profile of poker but the game’s reputation really skyrocketed when online games began – but we’ll cover that later.

Slot machines, as you would expect, are a more modern invention. The first type of slot was developed on the cusp of the 20th century in New York by the company Sittman and Pitt. It would cost a nickel to play but these early machines didn’t pay out money – they paid out gum or cigars – and had five drums with a total of 50 playing cards.

Winnings on these slot machines could be precisely regulated, and it was the beginning of a revolution. So the house edge would be increased, two cards were removed from the machine – the 10 of spades and the Jack of hearts which reduced the odds of getting a royal flush by half. It would be another 85 years before the video slot would be a reality, with that invention coming about in 1976.

Sin City’s history


Despite all the positive strides in gaming that helped to bring us to where we are today, there are plenty of issues that arose regardless. In 1892, there was a complete ban on all gaming activities in Canada and in 1910, there was nationwide prohibition on gaming on the United States. Eight years after Canada’s ban, bingo and raffles were allowed but for charitable purposes. It would be another ten years before a form of gambling we are more than used to today was deemed acceptable – horse racing.

In America, the devastating events of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression in the 1930s lead to gambling being legalised. Nevada legalised more forms of gambling in 1931 when Assembly Bill 98 was signed into law to provide a source of revenue into the state.

It would be another 20 years before Las Vegas would become rapidly developed, and in doing so, made the idea of gambling look incredibly glamorous and exciting. This was down to the ultra-chic era of the 1950s; a Las Vegas era of the Rat Pack. The likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin promoted the elegance of one of Las Vegas, and made its name synonymous with elegance and grandeur. Even now, Vegas still has some of this legendary glamour. Famous artists perform shows there, and there’s all kinds of fantastic entertainment available alongside the gaming.

Gaming in Canada


Gambling laws in Canada remained relatively unchanged until 1970 – although amendments were made prior to that. In 1970, changes to the Canadian Criminal Code gave provinces the authority to both license and regulate gambling: this major change has helped to create a multibillion dollar gambling industry throughout the country.

In 1974, the first lottery was held in Canada as a means to raise money for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. This step was huge for Canada and it saw some big wins – nine women from Quebec ended up sharing $1 million tax-free which was the world’s biggest lottery payout at the time. Over $8 million was claimed in other prizes, ranging from $100 to $500,000, for twenty-five thousand other lucky lottery players. It was good news for Canada as the lottery fully served its initial purpose too: more than $15 million was raised for the Montreal Olympic Games, with two and a half million lottery tickets being sold in the first round.

There may have been bumps in the road in the past but now there is a casino in almost every province in Canada as gaming has become much more accepted over the years. The first permanent casino was built in 1989 in Winnipeg, followed by Montreal in 1993. Video Lottery Terminals were introduced in Canada in the early 1990s, placed in operation by a number of provincial governments. They are akin to slot machines but they do not pay out cash – instead, a coupon is produced which is redeemed for cash by the licensee.

One of the most famous land-based casinos in Canada is Caesars Windsor in Ontario. The casino opened in 1998 with 100,000 sq ft of gaming space. The casino underwent a huge renovation in 2008, costing $439 million. It’s popular with American gamers too, as it’s just across the river from Michigan. You can even see the city of Detroit out of the waterfront windows.

Online gaming in the 21st century


The face of gambling changed completely in 1994 with the invention of virtual casinos. This was when Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade and Processing Act which allowed licences to be granted to organisations applying to open online casinos. This made playing your favourite card games or slot so much easier, and the idea soon became a firm favourite.

In 1996, there were only 15 online gambling websites, a figure which dramatically increased to 200 a year later. In 1998 alone online gambling revenues exceeded $380 million – and all of this was long before the smartphone was invented! It was estimated that by 2001, the number of people who had participated in online gambling had rose to eight million – a figure that would continue to grow.

Technology has also improved, so the games on offer have changed. Video slots are a notable example. They are no longer just simple machines with mechanical operating systems and three reels. Instead, they are complicated and controlled by random number generation. They have can multiple paylines, top-quality graphics, and even tie in with other famous media franchises. Online gaming has helped these games evolve into their own fantastic entity.

Statista predicted in 2016 that the size of the online gambling market would have a volume of USD $45.86 billion that year, growing to $56.05 billion by 2018.

So, there you have it. To get to the games you know and love today, be they in land-based casinos  or online, you can trace their history back to ancient China, Greece and Rome. We have come a long way – from the days of gods rolling dice, to a multibillion dollar industry. Although online gaming has been a reality for more than 20 years, it is an industry that has continued to grow at an incredible rate. Who knows where gambling will go in the next few years?

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