How has gambling changed throughout history?

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Gambling has been around for millions of years – before history was even properly documented. But has gambling really changed that much since our Paleolithic ancestors? In this article, we run you through the important dates in the history of gambling and let you decide just how much it’s changed.

Earliest days of gambling: 3.3 Ma-9000 AD

Gambling predates the birth of Christ. By how much? Millions of years – the earliest recorded six-sided dice comes from Mesopotamia (3000 BC).

But even this doesn’t tell the full story.

Why? Because that was inspired by designs used in the Paleolithic period, AKA, the Old Stone Age, which goes 3.3 million years back from the present day!

However, the precursors to the popular games we know today took a little longer to come into existence – lotto games (which laid the foundation for Pai Gow) and playing cards were recorded in China in the 9th century AD.

Gambling starts to take shape: 1190-1569

With playing cards, dice, and a desire to bet on events (often people or animals fighting) firmly in place, the second Millenium was when gambling as we know it began to take shape – particularly because laws were put in place to regulate it.

  • 1190: King Richard I and Phillip II develope the first gambling legislation
  • 1509: gambling is banned in the UK by Henry VIII
  • 1569: the UK’s first national lottery is put in place by Elizabeth I, paying a jackpot of £5,000

During this time, it is believed that games which created the foundations for modern poker were created in ancient China. The Persian game, As-Nas, was also created in the 17th century, while the world’s first casino (the Ridotto) opened in Venice in 1638. 

States try to keep gambling in check: 1739-1845

From the 18th to 19th centuries, states took further measuring to keep the increasing popularity of gambling in check – again, with legislation (as you can see from these measures taken in the UK).  

  • 1739 & 1745: Betting on most pub games is banned
  • 1845: Gaming Act of 1845 is passed. The purpose was to discourage people from gambling

Gambling gets gradually more acceptable: 1845-1960

From the mid-point of the 19th century to just after the half-way point of the 20th century, gambling began to become a more acceptable past-time. Why? Because the UK government sought to funnel people’s betting habits into designated gambling areas.

  • 1853: Betting Acts permits betting at some horse race tracks
  • 1906: Street Betting Act criminalizes gambling carried out in non-approved places
  • 1926: In this year, the UK’s first modern greyhound race is held
  • 1949-51: Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries, and Gaming makes the recommendation that people are permitted to bet on card games of skill
  • 1960: Betting and Gaming Act 1960 makes some forms of gambling legal

Foundations of modern gambling are laid: 1961 -1968

Gambling as we know it today (with bookies and casinos in operation) truly began to take shape during the swinging sixties.

  • 1961: A law was passed to allow betting shops to operate
  • 1968: Gaming Act of 1968 made it legal to build commercial casinos

Existing gambling legislation put in place: 2001 – 2014 

The dawn of the third millennium saw a two-pronged measure from the UK – the state both made it easier to gamble and tightened the regulations around gambling. The idea for this being that the government accepted people wanted to gamble, but sought to protect those who chose to do so.

  • 2001: In his budget of this year, Chancellor Gordon Brown abolished tax on people’s gambling winnings
  • 2005: Gambling Act of 2005 tightened the regulations on gambling operators
  • 2014: Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act of 2014 addressed loopholes in the Gambling Act of 2005 – these largely dealt with online gambling

What gambling now looks like today: 2014 – present

Gambling continues to be popular across the globe, with the explosion of poker during the 21st century doing much to change people’s attitudes towards gambling – perceptions are shifting towards poker being seen as a game of skill, rather than an addictive habit.

But it’s not only card games that are becoming more palatable to mainstream audiences – 2019 saw a relaxation of sports betting laws in the USA, opening the door for US gamblers to place bets on their favorite teams.

How has gambling changed throughout history?

On the one hand, it’s a simple answer – it’s become more popular, broader in the type of things you can bet on, and better regulated.

On the other hand, it’s a more complex answer – have people’s perceptions truly changed about gambling, or has it simply become so popular that it can’t be restricted in the ways it was previously?

We bet that gambling will continue to hold a strong appeal long into the future – it’s not by accident that people have been placing wagers for millions of years. 

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