The history of gambling is much like the history of life on Earth itself: full of conflicting accounts about its origins and tied in closely with, can you believe it, religion. Turns out church bingo isn’t the first time a religious organization got involved with gaming.
It’s believed that the first evidence of some semblance of gaming dates back to ancient times, when outcomes or predictions of certain events and when they might take place were determined by throwing objects onto the ground, and interpreting the results to see what they “foretold.” This was known in ancient civilizations as “casting of lots.” Generally, even numbers of objects were considered good, whereas odd numbers, not so much.
Evolution of Gambling
Naturally, like all gamblers throughout time, early ones wanted to put Lady Luck on their side, so they tended to pray to the gods to influence outcome, in an early rendition of “Just one time!”
It’s also possible that gambling, like sex, is so inherent in the human psyche that it had to be attributed to the deities of early times; thus some accounts of the top-tier Greek gods have Zeus, Hades and Poseidon playing some rudimentary craps to decide who got what in the grand scheme of the Universe.
Eventually, people started to use gambling as a way to decide who got to do what; you know, like “you get to shlep all the bricks to the base of the pyramid, and then I’ll stack ’em up” kind of thing. A practical decision-making tool was born.
Early gambling chips were made out of things like sticks, rocks, or bones. Bones? “Hey, Neanderthal Man, pull me a tibia for our weekly blackjack game, would ya?” must have been the word around caveman times. Turns out the earliest die were made from knucklebones ( a practice sometimes continued in the early days of Vegas by those who didn’t pay their casino debts). Knucklebones, we are told, are four-sided, albeit irregular in shape; and eventually numbers were painted on them and several sets thrown in early games of chance.
Early cards were also based on superstition and divination; if you’ve ever seen a Tarot deck, you’ve seen the offshoot of early cards which featured various societal roles and the earliest version of card suits.
Eventually, these cards became part of everyday life, and an amusement to pass the time for the upper classes (the lower classes were probably too busy trying to find food or their annual bath to take much time out for such frivolities). It is known that games such as craps, baccarat, roulette and blackjack all originated in different parts of Europe, while keno was first played as an ancient Chinese lottery game.
Word is that the first casinos in any shape we may think of them were created in 17th century Italy. The word “casino” means “small villa” or “summer home” in Italian, indicating a place to “get away to” and relax and enjoy some worldly pleasures. So actually, the first casinos were more like, um, brothels, it seems. Apparently that famous lover Casanova enjoyed a few in his day.
So, there you have it: a brief look back at the history of gambling since time began. We’ll never know who placed the first bet, but you can bet they went for double or nothing when they lost.