According to the myth, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades threw dice to determine how they would divide the realms of creation. Gambling, in various forms, has been with the human race as long as there has been a human race. There is evidence of cave dwellers of 40,000 years ago who had gambling equipment made from ankle bones of sheep and dogs.
Like so much modern development, it took the Chinese to bring gambling into the modern era. Around 2300 BC the Chinese were playing complex games involving tiles. And then, around 1200 BC Greek soldiers were playing dice games, not unlike modern dice games. In ancient Rome, both Claudius and the infamous Caligula were avid gamblers, and Biblically, soldiers gambled for Christ’s robes after the crucifixion. Gambling became so prolific in that era that during the height of the Roman Empire, lawmakers decreed that children needed to be taught the rules of gambling games and how to throw dice in order to prepare them for adult life.
In the 14th century, King Henry VIII of England decreed that gambling was illegal. He decided on this path once he realized that in the ranks of his military his soldiers were spending more time gambling than they were training for battle. Nonetheless, when his wife, Anne Boleyn, and her brother were tried for incest in 1536, odds-makers laid odds of 10 to 1 in favor of acquittal.
In the Americas, the native residents were in possession of gambling games long before the European settlers got there, and those games were often linked with religious beliefs. Europeans also brought their games to the Americas, and George Washington himself bought the first lottery ticket sold on United States soil. The lottery was to pay for improvements to the infant city of Washington D. C.
In the United States, gambling games moved west with the pioneers. Cities like New Orleans were destinations for travelers, and cities like Dodge were stopovers for cowboys moving the great cattle drives. They were all places where gambling thrived because there were hoards of people who sought some entertainment in an era when entertainment was scarce by 21st century standards.
Around the world, in the era before television, radio and movies, gambling thrived. Whether in chic destinations such as Monte Carlo where the crowned heads of Europe would gather to play cards and roulette or in humble farmers ’ markets where a gathering of working men might gather for a few games of dice, gambling thrived as the wholesome entertainment that it was.
In the era following the Civil War in the United States, however, large-scale gambling fraud started to become a much bigger problem than it had been in the past. The U.S. Congress began outlawing interstate gambling games, and states began to ban just about everything that the federal government did not. In 1910 the State of Nevada made it a felony to operate a gambling operation. With the onset of Prohibition in 1920, drinking went underground, and gambling followed. Prohibition only lasted thirteen years in the US. When drinking came out of the shadows, some gambling followed, and betting on horse races quickly became a popular legal pastime in many places.
Predicting the trend, in 1931 Nevada legalized gambling once again, and for many years that was the only state in the US where gambling was legal. It was so popular in Nevada that it became, and remains, the keystone of Nevada’s economy with every option from vast mega-casinos covering several city blocks down to little mom-and-pop operations with a few card tables and a few slot machines.
In 1978, Atlantic City, New Jersey followed suit, and opened some of the United States’ biggest and most spectacular casinos. Since that time, other states have followed their example in limited areas.
Since the late 70s, many Native American tribes have legalized gambling on their lands. This has carried over into the great boom of so-called Indian casinos throughout the United States. Though the states may ban gambling, that ban does not extend to the American Indian lands. This has brought many tribes out of the pits of poverty to being self-sufficient. This also has brought gambling venues much closer to millions of people who once would have had to travel across the country to get to the nearest legal gambling establishments.
In 1994 the Internet was still new to the public, but its uses and applications were rapidly being discovered. Microgaming, still one of the biggest and best casino software companies, was founded in that year and began the boom that we know today as Internet gaming. Internet Casinos are registered and physically located in places where gambling is legal, but the games may be played anywhere. These casinos must adhere to many laws in all the jurisdictions where they allow play. Some jurisdictions still disallow gambling, even if it is online. Nonetheless, online gaming has brought the excitement of casino play to millions who would have never experienced it in the past.
For the most part, online casinos are modeled on their modern brick-and-mortar counterparts, offering selections of card games, table games and hundreds of slot games. Additionally there are online card rooms that specialize in one or several card games and online books that take bets on any sporting event worldwide. For those of us who love the thrill of a game of chance, in the 21st century, gaming has truly come home.