The History And Future Of Gambling

The casino industry is nothing new, having been around for a few millennia. Yet, somehow, the industry continues to feel fresh, glitzy, modern, and just about the best way to wile away a free evening. Today we have online casinos that come with live dealer rooms, VR, and just about every type of slot you could ever dream of. And, cryptocurrency is now one of the main players with the best Ethereum casinos offering instant withdrawals, anonymous accounts with no KYC requirements, and massive sign-up bonuses, according to casino expert Gary McLellan.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. But in order to understand the future of the global casino industry, which is currently worth a cool $231 billion, it’s important to look at how the world of casinos and gambling got to be. With that said, allow us to present an overview of the history (and future) of gambling. 

The ancient practice of gambling goes all the way back to at least 2000 BC, long before the internet and cryptocurrencies, with historical evidence suggesting that civilizations in Egypt, China, Japan, and Greece would play games of chance using primitive dice. Archaeologists have found cave drawings and loaded dice in tombs across the world.

These dice which were carved initially from sheep bones and referred to as ‘knucklebones,’ are thought to be amongst the earliest gambling tools. The Mahabharata, an epic poem from ancient India, mentions these dice, while the Bible recounts Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ robe. Romans, in particular, were rather fond of dice and used them in various forms of gambling, from chariot races to even gladiator contests.

According to Sophocles, a Greek poet, dice were invented during the siege of Troy. Greeks, like Romans, had a penchant for gambling – despite the many restrictions within cities. Yet, despite these rules, they invented the very first gambling chips. Why? To ensure they couldn’t be accused of wagering money if they were caught by guards. Savvy, right?

The medieval period witnessed the legalization of gambling in certain European regions, while others, like Britain and France, remained conservative. King Louis IX of France banned gambling for religious reasons, and during the Crusades, gambling was limited to only those who were knights and of similar higher ranks. Horse racing gained popularity in post-Crusade Europe, especially in New England, where private races for the elite became a trend.

Card games emerged in the late 14th century, with Baccarat being one of the earliest examples. Lotteries also surfaced in Europe during the late 15th century, initially used to fund public projects. England established its very first official lottery in 1567. The Brits can’t lay claim to inventing it, though; it’s thought that lotteries may have been used in China centuries earlier to fund projects like the Great Wall.

It was the indigenous Americans engaged in games of chance long before European colonization, using dice and bowls in tribal celebrations. European colonists introduced gambling traditions to the New World, with New England becoming a hub for activities like horse racing, cockfighting, and bull-baiting.

The colonial era faced opposition from Pilgrims and Puritans, who viewed gambling as sinful. This was a sentiment that was to persist through the 16th and 17th centuries. Yet, did it stop anyone? Nope. Cockfighting, wrestling, and running races proved to be very popular during this time, and actually contributed to the development of modern casino games as we know them today.

The 18th century saw gambling become widespread among British aristocrats, prompting Queen Anne to address the economic disruption caused by excessive gambling debts. The Statute of Anne in 1710 rendered large gambling debts unenforceable, remaining in effect for centuries.

The late 18th century brought about the Great Awakening, a period emphasizing conservative moral values and, surprise, surprise, also a time that condemned gambling. The Continental Congress discouraged extravagance and dissipation, and this is largely what led to a negative view of gambling. As America entered the 19th century, however, gambling was tolerated – on condition of not disrupting social order. With that, states like Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina passed versions of the Statute of Anne to prevent excessive gambling.

New Orleans emerged as a gambling hub in the 19th century, with riverboat gambling becoming popular. The Old West saw a peak in legal and illegal gambling, with saloons and gambling houses dotted across towns. Queen Victoria’s reign in the late 19th century contributed to the decline of gambling’s popularity in both Europe and America.

The 20th century witnessed significant changes in gambling. Nevada legalized casino gambling in 1931, and post-World War II America saw a surge in gambling interest, particularly in Las Vegas. The development of corporate gambling in the 1960s, led by figures like Howard Hughes, marked a turning point in the industry’s legitimacy. Federal statutes in the late ’60s aimed to combat organized crime’s involvement in gambling.

The 1970s saw the first legal casino outside Nevada in Atlantic City. Native American tribes began establishing bingo halls in the 1970s, leading to legal battles. In a defining moment not only for gambling but culturally, too, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988, which allowed tribes to operate casinos on their reservations.

The digital era in the mid-1990s brought significant changes to gambling with the rise of online platforms. However, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 posed challenges for the online gambling sector. Yet, despite initial setbacks, online gambling grew into a billion-dollar industry by the mid-2000s. And, in 2018, the US Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting, opening the door to legalized online gambling in several states. 

As of 2024, there are 44 US states with some form of casino gambling, including commercial casinos, tribal casinos, online casinos, or all three. 

But it won’t stop there. 

The modern gambling industry continues to evolve with advancements in technology, mobile accessibility, and regulatory changes. Despite challenges, the iGaming sector remains a significant contributor to the American economy, adapting to new trends and consumer preferences. What we can expect to see in the coming years, is the casino industry with a focus on two main areas: the rise of online gambling and catering to a changing clientele, and navigating both of which will make for some interesting advancements.

Share this GiN Article on your favorite social media network: