A Brief History Of Casino Games

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When you think of gaming, it’s probably modern-day lotteries and casino games that come to mind. But the origins of these activities stretch back thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks were interested in mathematics, so it is hardly surprising their civilization was fascinated by number games involving the rolling of dice. In fact, Greek mythology makes much of the fact that the gods too engaged in gambling. Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, for example, were thought to have cast dice as a means of deciding how the Universe was to be split between them.

Both the Greeks and Romans played board games, and games such as ‘heads and tails’ were played with shells or coins. Dice games, at first played with three dice, were also common, although gameplay eventually settled on the use of a pair of dice – just as players do today. During the Greco-Roman period, scenes painted on surviving pottery and other artefacts make it clear that betting on fights between animals, as well as on the outcome of gladiatorial combat, was a very popular pastime.

Other ancient peoples took to gaming in the same way. Evidence exists in Egypt and China, for example, and Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic and Christian religious texts are full of references to the ‘casting of lots’ and other ways of letting chance determine events.

Modern casinos: from the Ridotto to today’s powerhouses

Though gambling dates back further than history can trace, we have a better idea of how casinos started. Odds and potential gaming strategies were of interest to Renaissance mathematicians, and before long Italian merchants realised they could get hundreds of potential buyers to risk a small wager to win something like a fine carpet. This ‘mercantile gambling’ was usually far more profitable than selling the same item for a much smaller price. The citizens of Venice were particularly keen on gambling in general, so much so that, in 1638, the city authorities eventually set aside a special building known as ‘Il Ridotto’, where such activities could take place.

The Ridotto was thus the first gambling casino. But where Italy led, France soon followed. Between 1650 and 1800, gambling in France spread from the royal court to Parisian ‘social clubs’. By 1796, Monte Carlo had legalised casino gambling, but when France then decided to outlaw gaming, entrepreneurs simply moved further east to open a casino in the German spa resort of Baden-Baden. Meanwhile, European settlers took gambling to the USA and elsewhere in the New World, where it again spread rapidly. Though the authorities often struggled to regulate gambling activity, during the twentieth century America eventually became a global centre for casinos – especially the city of Las Vegas in Nevada.

As the twentieth century came to a close, developments in the computer industry enabled the gambling industry to move online, where online casinos have since become firmly established.

Playing cards 101

It’s thought that card games originated in China around the 9th century AD. From there, they were introduced to India and Persia before spreading to Egypt. By the second half of the 14th century, card games were known in both Italy and Spain, probably as a result of Moorish influences. Early playing cards were ornate works of art which were only owned by the wealthiest sections of society. However, the development of European printing techniques made playing cards much cheaper and therefore more accessible. France developed reversible cards in 1745, and later developments included rounded corners and decorated backs to discourage players from writing on them.

The history of blackjack

Blackjack is said to be a US version of the popular game known as ‘twenty one’, itself of French origin. From the 19th century onwards, the blackjack-type games played in France spread around the world. In America, the blackjack game was established by 1820. In the twentieth century, it became a regular casino game and much attention was focused on blackjack strategies. However, once blackjack became available in online casinos, it soon developed a mass appeal.

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The arrival of poker

Developed in the US in the early 19th century, the ‘bluffing’ game of poker quickly became common in the bars and saloons of the Old West and in Canada’s mining towns. The modern game of poker was later honed and refined in casinos all over the world. However, once it became part of the online casino roster of games in the 21st century, poker then developed a number of modern variants of the game first popularised by gamblers on the Mississippi riverboats.


A common casino table game, craps involves rolling a pair of dice, either once or as part of a series, and betting on the outcome. In the ‘street craps’ version of the game, players wager against each other. But in the ‘table craps’ – sometimes known as ‘casino craps’ – version of the game, players bet against the bank. Among the game’s many superstitions, players believe it’s unlucky to mention the number ‘seven’.

The evolution of roulette

The idea of a roulette wheel is said to derive from an Italian gaming wheel dating from 1720. A recognisable form of roulette was played in Paris from around 1796 but only started to become widely popular after its introduction to German casinos in the mid-1800s. French roulette features a wheel containing the numbers 1-36 plus a zero pocket. However, as the game developed in America and Canada, it soon became customary to use a wheel which includes two zero pockets, labelled ‘0’ and ‘00’.

The history of slots games

Slot machines date from the late 1800s and quickly evolved from card-based symbols to include fruits and bars. Simple reels spun by a lever were the norm before electro-mechanical gaming machines arrived in the 1960s, followed by video slots in the 1970s. Software-driven slots began to appear in the 1990s and the industry also began its moves to establish online gambling sites. At first, only classics such as roulette and blackjack were available, but the popularity of online casinos soon saw an explosion of new games. Since the arrival of mobile gaming platforms from 2010 onwards, online slots have become even more popular and are now a truly global phenomenon.

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