History of gambling: from its ancient origins to the online casino era

Gambling has a long and fascinating history. Since ancient times, gambling has played an important role in all strata of society. Not only do they provide entertainment, they also reflect our beliefs, values and lifestyles. From jacks played in Mesopotamia over 3,000 years ago to online casinos, gambling has changed over time. With GAMRFIRST, discover their history through the ages.

The origins of gambling

Gambling is far from being the preserve of modern societies. Historical and archaeological research has shown that they existed thousands of years before Christ.

The first games of chance in Antiquity

Archaeological excavations at the site of the ancient city of Babylon, in the heart of Mesopotamia, have yielded the first evidence of the existence of games of chance in ancient times. Cuneiform tablets record the practice of playing jacks, the forerunner of dice games. This consisted of throwing dice and betting on the results. For the Mesopotamians, these games of chance were more than simple entertainment. They saw it as an interaction with the gods. The gods would have had the power to influence the draw, giving these games a strong spiritual dimension.

The ancient Greeks loved to play games of chance. Mythology makes reference to this. The gods of Olympus were fervent fans of the game of dice. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades even marked out their respective kingdoms in the Universe by throwing jacks. Tossing a coin was common practice in Ancient Greece. Initially played with a shell, it was later replaced by a coin.

The Egyptians also played many games of chance. Hieroglyphics bear witness to this. The most fervent gamblers were buried with dice, sticks or pebbles to entertain them in the afterlife.

The emergence of card games in China


Later, around the 9th century AD, card games appeared in China. Initially, their main function was divination. Decorated with symbols and motifs, the cards were interpreted to provide clues about future events. Over time, these practices gained in popularity, gradually incorporating elements of gambling and betting. A new leisure activity was born. Eventually, they crossed the borders of China and spread throughout the world, influencing the development of card games in different civilisations.

Games of chance in the Middle Ages

This period witnessed the growing popularity of games of chance in Europe. Dice games were among the most widespread. Made from bone, ivory or wood, they were most often played in taverns or public places.

At the same time, packs of cards arrived from the East, gaining in popularity throughout Europe. Handmade and richly decorated, they were used for recreational and divinatory purposes. Appreciated by all strata of society, these games gradually became structured with the enactment of precise rules. At the same time, the Middle Ages saw the emergence of betting games. They were played at jousts and knightly tournaments.

Games of chance from the 17th to the 20th century

The first casinos appeared at this time. Subsequently, gambling became increasingly popular.

The appearance of the first casinos in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries

It was on the European continent, in the 17th century, more specifically in Venice in Italy, that places dedicated to games of chance first appeared. The oldest casino in the world, called Ridotto (secluded place), dates back to 1638. These were mainly luxurious houses where members of the nobility and high society gathered to gamble and be entertained. All away from the gaze of the Church, which firmly condemned such practices. In secret, they played card games such as baccarat, trente-et-quarante and dice. In France, for example, under the reign of Louis XIV, the courtiers at the Court of Versailles played the lottery.

In the 18th century, gambling became increasingly popular. Prestigious casinos opened in Baden-Baden in Germany, Spa in Belgium and Monte Carlo in Monaco. In just a few years, these cities, popular with gambling enthusiasts, became major tourist destinations, boosting the economies of the regions concerned. A new era opened up for gambling.

It was at this time that one of the most emblematic casino games, roulette, was invented. Invented in France, the popularity of the "little wheel" was quickly confirmed thanks to a skilful blend of luck and strategy. Roulette remains one of the mainstays of modern casinos.

Good to know : Gambling in France from the 17th to the 19th century
In 1656, Mazarin planned to create a royal lottery to finance the construction of a bridge over the Seine. A draw was finally organised in 1560 for the wedding of Louis XIV. The first public lottery was held in 1700. At the same time, between the 16th and 18th centuries, gambling was banned by several rulings. Only nobles were allowed to gamble. Yet the craze continued unabated. In 1804, Napoleon decided to create a regulatory body to oversee gambling. Finally, in 1806, Paris and the spas were authorised to open their own casinos.

The democratisation of gambling in the 19th and 20th centuries

During this period, gambling became significantly more democratic and accessible to a wider public. Two forms of innovation played a major role in this process: slot machines and lotteries.

Slot machines, also known as one-armed bandits, first appeared at the end of the 19th century. Initially mechanical, they were equipped with levers. The player had to press them to make the reels spin, displaying different symbols. Winning combinations led to a prize. Slot machines quickly gained in popularity because of their simplicity, but also because of their high winnings potential. With the advent of computers, slot machines evolved. They are now sophisticated devices, offering a variety of themes with attractive features.

Lotteries have contributed to the democratisation of gambling. First introduced in the 19th century, they were initially used to finance public interest projects. Lottery tickets were affordable and offered the chance of winning a major prize. They attracted millions of participants.

This democratisation contributed to the emergence of modern, popular casinos such as those in Las Vegas and Atlantic City in the United States. In the 20th century, these two cities became symbols of entertainment and gambling, attracting players from all over the world for :

  • table games ;
  • slot machines ;
  • the activities ;
  • the shows on offer.

Gambling: the digital revolution

The advent of the digital age has brought significant changes to the gambling industry, particularly with the emergence of online casinos. Nowadays, gamblers can access games of chance and money from the comfort of their own living rooms.

The advent of online casinos

The first online casinos appeared in the 1990s. They offered a limited selection of games, such as blackjack, roulette and virtual slot machines.

Over time, online casinos have been able to offer a wider range of games and a more immersive experience. A multitude of casino games are available, including table games (poker, baccarat, etc.) and live dealer games. Players can now interact with real dealers via video feeds, recreating the atmosphere of a physical casino.

Good to know: The democratisation of sports betting
Once the preserve of experienced gamblers, sports betting is now being democratised. The proliferation of mobile applications, accessible via smartphones and tablets, is making a major contribution to this trend.

The advantages of online casinos

One of the major advantages of online casino is their accessibility. They are available 24/7 from a computer, tablet or smartphone. They offer a wide variety of secure payment options, allowing players to deposit and withdraw money easily.

Online gambling benefits from constant technological innovation aimed at improving the gaming experience and player immersion. Graphics, sound effects and animations all contribute to creating attractive virtual environments. Advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) should open up new possibilities.

The place of gambling in modern society

These days, gambling occupies an integral place in modern society.

Gambling in film and literature

Gambling has always fascinated society. Cinema and literature have seized on this aura to create memorable works and unforgettable characters. Iconic films such as Martin Scorsese's "Casino" and Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" plunge viewers into the thrilling world of casinos, with intense gaming scenes and charismatic characters. Card games such as poker were highlighted in "Rounders" and "Casino Royale", where the protagonists engage in tense, strategic games.

Literature is no exception. Classic novels such as Dostoyevsky's "The Gambler" and Nicholas Pileggi's "Casino" explore the themes of gambling addiction and the associated risks.

The economic and regulatory impact of gambling

The economic impact of gambling is undeniable. Every year, physical casinos, online gaming platforms, lotteries and sports betting contribute to a flourishing economy. Gambling is the source of many direct jobs (croupiers, security staff) and indirect jobs. In particular, they create opportunities in related industries such as construction, tourism and other sectors. Tax revenues from gambling are a source of funding for many governments.

Gambling gives rise to debate, particularly on regulatory issues. Gambling addiction and the associated negative social consequences are the subject of numerous prevention campaigns. Most countries now have clear legislation aimed at ensuring the integrity of gambling, preventing fraud and promoting responsible gambling.

Games of chance first appeared several millennia ago in Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt. It was not until the 17th century that the first casinos appeared. Four hundred years later, aided by the development of new technologies, these forms of entertainment have freed themselves from their historical constraints and spread to all strata of society.