The roots of gambling reach further back than you would think. Even in the old days, gambling meant entertainment for everyone willing to take a chance — from the farmer who bet his sheep on the outcome of a horse race to powerful politicians betting entire villas on the throw of a dice. One story has the patrons at White’s in London wagering on whether or not a man who had collapsed on the doorstep was dead.
The oldest evidence of gambling is a set of dice found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back to 6000BC. Keno, the oldest known game of chance, dates back to somewhere between 205 and 187BC. It’s believed to have originated in China 3,000 years ago as a lottery which was run to fund the ongoing Han Dynasty war. According to legend, Keno was used again years later to raise funds for the building of the Great Wall of China.
Without the bad, there can be no good, and so it is with gambling. The rising popularity of gambling in the 1800s in the American South bred corrupt thieves known as “sharps” — players who used various methods to take advantage of less skilled fellows. Gaming “hells” were places where the innocent might be easily fleeced and the “Captain Sharps” could win huge fortunes.
Card sharps were found mostly in gaming hells, but some were more active in their endeavors, travelling around looking for high-stakes games to swindle. This had its own risks. For example, in 1835, five sharps were lynched, making the sharps move west. Unfortunately this wasn’t the only form of corruption in the gambling scene — most state lotteries were discontinued due to lottery scandals. In the 1930s many casinos were financed by mobsters, while the government tried to fight their illegal operations.
Not everything was bad though. Charles Fey invented the first slot machine at the end of the 1890s — the first one being known as the Liberty Bell. The prizes were far from what they are nowadays – while today it is possible to win millions off the spin of the reels, back in the day the best you could do was get free beer and cigars. This was especially good news for the tired construction workers on the Hoover Dam, where casinos and showgirls took care of their entertainment after their long working days.
A notable turning point in the era of modern gambling was the first progressive slot jackpot, Cash Splash, released by Microgaming in 1998. By the end of the same year, an astonishing 700 active real-money online casinos had already opened. By the turn of the millennium, online casinos were pulling in over $2.2bnÂ in revenues, with US players alone responsible for two thirds of that total.
With all this being said, what will be the next big thing in the world of gambling — another big scandal? A world-record win by your neighbor? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…