The history of humanity is inextricably linked with the history of gambling, as it seems that no matter how far back in time you go there are signs that where groups of people gathered together gambling was sure to have been taking place. Now we are not going to attempt to track every single twist and turn in the evolution of gambling in this article, but what we are going to do is to pick out some of the most important dates to act as milestones on the road to today’s gambling experience.
A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to us than the 99 which we had to work for, and the money won at Faro or in the stock market snuggles into our hearts in the same way. –Mark Twain
It’s always sweeter to make a dollar on a great bet than to earn one after a hard day’s work. Maybe it’s because we didn’t work for it, so it feels like easy money. By the way, if you’re wondering what “Faro” is, it’s a card game that was very popular in the 1800s, until it was later surpassed by poker.
Gambling is one of the oldest known pursuits of mankind. Archeological evidence suggests that even the earliest caveman was a gambler. Dice-like objects made from the ankle bone of a sheep or dog called Astragali dating back 40,000 years have been found. Cave drawings depicting gambling offer further proof of the existence of early gamblers. Pairs of dice have even turned up in the ruins of Pompeii, some of them “loaded” to fall a certain way.
Around 2300 B.C., the Chinese invented a game of chance using tiles, and 1100 years later Greek soldiers amused themselves with dice games, though in ancient Greece gambling was illegal. In Egypt, a pair of ivory dice were found in Thebes dating back to 1500 B.C., and ancient gambling artifacts have been unearthed in China, Japan, India and Rome.
In ancient Rome, Claudius redesigned his carriage so that he would have more room to throw dice, Caligula confiscated knights’ property to cover his gambling debts, and Roman soldiers gambled for the robes of Christ after his crucifixion. At the height of the Roman Empire, lawmakers decreed that all children were to be taught to gamble and throw dice.
During the 14th century, and in spite of being an inveterate gambler himself, King Henry VIII outlawed gambling when he discovered that his soldiers spent more time gambling than improving their battle skills. When Henry’s wife, Anne Boleyn, and her brother were tried for treason and incest, the odds were 10-to-1 on acquittal.
In the New World, Native Americans, believing that the gods themselves invented games of chance, played dice with plum stones painted white or black. In addition to wagering possessions, Native Americans also played to predict future harvests and in hopes of curing seriously ill tribal members.
During the Revolutionary War, lotteries bankrolled the Continental Army. Washington himself bought the first ticket for a federal lottery in 1793 sponsored to finance improvements in the District of Columbia, and nearly all state governments sanctioned lotteries. By the 1830’s, more than 420 lotteries nationwide offered prizes. Lotteries remained a popular fund-raising method throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Terry Murphy has written a lot about gambling over the years, but few of his quotes are more insightful than this one. We probably all know gamblers who make the same mistakes again and again for years on end, and a lot of them even consider themselves experts on the games they play! Of course, this doesn’t have to be your fate: there’s more than enough strategic information out there to make sure you’re playing your games of choice the right way.
Riverboats and frontier towns in the New World emerged providing new gambling venues, sometimes legal, sometimes not. And one risked much more than a few gold pieces when gambling in the frontier days. Card cheats and con men were often lynched, denoting the public’s attitude toward professional gamblers, or ”sharpers” as they were often known.
In the 1830’s, refugee sharpers from the South moved to Cincinnati and opened the nation’s first “Wolf-Traps” or “10 Percent Houses”, named for of the house’s cut of the action. Cincinnati also was the birthplace of the ”Horse-Hair game”, a method for cheating in cards by which a player, aided by an accomplice’s distractions, manipulated cards and chips by use of a horse hair attached to a vest button.
After the Civil War, evangelical reform wiped out most of the lotteries. In the 1890’s, the flagrant fraud of the nationally marketed Louisiana lottery led Congress to outlaw the remaining games, creating a public disdain for lotteries, and in 1910 Nevada made it a felony to operate a gambling game.
Prohibition sent drinking and gambling underground. But it didn’t stay down for long. In the 1930’s, restrictions eased up and legalized betting on horse racing became popular. In 1931, Nevada legalized gambling again, and casinos literally sprouted from the sands of the desert. Atlantic City followed suit in 1978 and since then, other states have legalized various forms of gambling.
Gamblers were hungry for a variety of games and where the early casinos offered just a few choices, the new and improved versions started adding variety to the games. Down in Texas they’d been playing a poker game called Hold Em and as the Texans traveled thru Nevada, they urged the casinos to add this poker variant. They didn’t just want to play poker, they wanted to play Texas Hold Em as the variant came to be known.
Variants of blackjack and poker started popping up all thru the casinos, sometimes from foreign travelers bringing an overseas version and sometimes by the casinos themselves attempting to tip the odds. Either way it was a hit and places like Las Vegas became all the rage, growing faster than anyone could have imagined. Variations of the games were sometimes used as a draw for a particular casino, being the only casino to offer that variant. Not to be outdone, other casinos would offer their own variations and before long there were dozens of different poker games and blackjack games.