World History of Gaming: From Origins to Today

The gaming industry moves billions every year, but behind this phenomenon hides a long history full of laws and prohibitions. Gambling is nowadays a very common activity throughout the world and in any social sphere. In this article, we will tell you about the most important stages in the history of gaming.

Gambling has always been popular

Gambling is one of the oldest forms of games that have been practiced over time. The way to bet will depend on whether the bets are seen as a pure game of chance or if a previous preparation and a thorough analysis of the rivals and the context are needed. There are bets that have to do with luck, such as the result of tossing a coin into heads or tails or other types of bets with a random result that you can bet on.

Sports betting is also considered a form of gambling, but skilled players who compete in it can clearly influence the outcome. For example, detailed background information about the participants and their physical condition, or the results of the previous matches of the teams, will help you to know the realistic options that each type of bet has.

Ambitious gamblers try to have as much background information as possible in advance. This not only occurs in today’s bets, but it was also used in races, formerly with some competitors.

3000 BC: It all starts with the dice

The game became popular around 3000 BC, starting with dice. In China and the area of ​​ancient Mesopotamia, the researchers found the first dice, although they were different in shape and size from the ones we use today. Dice, as we know them today, were invented some 1000 years later in Egypt.

The dice game was not only popular in that region, but it was also popular in Rome, where it had many followers. However, the Roman emperors tried to prevent the game quickly, allowing it only in Saturnalia in the periods of celebration in honor of Saturn. In Europe, the Germans weren’t too keen on dice either, as they often gambled all their possessions or even their own freedom.

Between 500 – 1500 BC: Moral concerns. Gambling in the Middle Ages

Just as for emperors in antiquity, the game was also not much appreciated by the rulers of medieval Europe. There was some concern from both citizens and the religious side: some feared for the workforce, while the others had moral doubts about gambling.

Still, attempts to ban the game weren’t very successful, as people always found other ways to keep betting. This did not benefit the authorities, as they made profits from the players through fees and tax obligations.

At first, they were parties, fairs or carnivals, popular meeting places to gamble, but these were increasingly supplanted due to prohibitions; people started to gamble in guest houses and the upper class had their own “gambling houses”. Here, the legislator introduced specific regulations for the game, thus forcing operators to pay.

A special form of gambling: life insurance

Back in the Middle Ages, there was a special way of betting in Genoa and Antwerp, which is what we now know as life insurance. It was wagered on the “life or death” of people. In this way it was possible for street traders to insure families before embarking on dangerous journeys, placing bets on their own death. If the traveler did not return alive, he won the bet and his family received the money.

Life insurance continues to operate today under the same principle and, just like now, there were frauds at the time. The current concept of insurance, therefore, goes back a long time.

1350 AD: Licensing as a form of control

Another attempt by the rulers to control the game was the introduction of licensed betting houses in the 14th century. Only the upper-class members had access to them, so people from other social classes played in private houses but, being prohibited, they faced harsh sanctions. Each king could decide to what extent he granted concessions, which was a great instrument of control.

At the same time, the card game came from the East to Europe and developed a second variant of the popular game, which until then had been capitalized by dice. The southern German city of Ulm quickly became a hub for card production and this became known beyond borders. In this new “game machine” social classes were also distinguished, which were differentiated by patterns on the back of the cards. The upper class played with artistically decorated cards, while the middle or lower class played with cards without distinction or pattern.

The arrival of cards in Europe once again exposed the problems of the game: loss of property, fraud, murder, and homicide. In response to this, many cities passed the gambling ban and tightened controls. However, this mainly affected the lower classes, as the upper classes of society continued to play without being disturbed.

From 1400 until today: Lotteries as a popular betting game, with a social background

The origin of lottery games took place in Italy and the Netherlands. In the fourteenth century, the first means of this type of bet began. In German-speaking places, variants of this game appeared a little later. Since the 16th century, the lottery game has become widespread. Participants could purchase tickets from one or more companies, previously chosen, so they had a chance to win something. The winner’s drawing was done in public and was a very popular social event. Participants could bet on both private providers and public institutions. In many cases, the proceeds were used for social works, such as the construction of churches or houses in poor condition, also for victims of a fire.

Of course, the kings also wanted to take advantage of the boom in new games of chance, so they organized their own lotteries to increase the state budget. The first number lottery (the same one we play today) began in the 17th century. The introduction of this game did not change the negative part of this practice since it continued causing loss of possessions, poverty, and suicides.

Towards the end of the 18th century, criticism of the lottery also grew; as in other games of chance, it was widely feared that the poorest people would lose too much money and neglect their work, which would prevent them from paying taxes to the ruling class. Due to this, lottery games were banned in many countries. However, German diplomats from different countries were not affected by this ban and continued to do so.

Locals in Austria and Italy, where the lottery was fully permitted, benefited from the ban in Germany, as players began buying games in neighboring countries.

The lottery in Spain came thanks to Carlos III, who in turn had imported it from Naples and was the same as the now called Primitive Lottery. The first draw in Spain occurred on December 10, 1763.

From 1480: First mathematical considerations of the game

In the late 15th century, some scholars began to think more technically about the game. The probabilities of profit were no longer to be estimated only, but were already clearly calculated according to the laws of stochastic.

Today, any modern casino game can have a chance of winning. This means, of course, that in most games, providers eventually win so they can continue to offer benefits. Otherwise, it would be impossible for casinos and banks to offer profits.

In any case, there are also games in which it is possible to earn benefits even in the long term by making intelligent decisions; for example, in games in which you do not play against ‘the bank’, but against other participants. A good example is poker and its variants. It is not about being better than the bank, but about beating other players. That is why there are currently players who are able to bet and obtain benefits in the medium-long term. This not only applies to poker, but also to many other card games. A very popular board game in which you can also have positive expectations when playing is backgammon, in which large amounts of money continue to be wagered.

Between 1500 – 1900: Board games, increasingly popular

Today, the ‘Game of the Goose’ is considered a children’s game, but in the late 19th century it was mainly played by adults and large amounts were wagered. In Europe, this game appeared in the late 15th century and quickly became very popular. Especially in Spain, France, and Holland it was very widespread.

1638: “Ridotto”, the first casino

The first public casino was the Italian “Ridotto”, which was already very similar to today’s casinos and opened in Venice in 1638. The Ridotto was only the beginning of a glamorous casino era, as quickly, Another 100 casinos followed in Italy. In November 1774, the Ridotto was closed again. The consequences were noticed, not only by supporters of the game, since companies such as the emerging textile industry, restaurants or hotels benefited from the casino’s numerous clients.

1750: Ban after ban. Game center changes.

At the same time that the game of roulette was invented, in the mid-18th century, the rulers of Europe used their power to regulate the organization of the game. Carlos III, king of Spain, banned public gaming banks in his country; Napoleon, on the other hand, subsequently punished private play in Italy in order to make public play possible. In his native land, the French closed casinos in many cities and initially installed them in the capital, Paris. Starting in 1837, gaming centers were banned across the country, marking the beginning of the gaming boom in neighboring Germany.

In some tourist cities and vacation spots, pretentious gaming benches emerged, spreading beyond borders. A large number of tourists and visitors brought income to the cities, which in return was invested in improving the local infrastructure. Specifically, mention should be made of the Baden-Baden and Bad Homburg houses, which attracted international celebrities, such as the Russian writer Dostoevsky, who was inspired by his experiences in that city to write his novel “The Player”.

As criticism of the game grew louder, Chancellor Bismarck in 1872 issued a ban on gambling throughout German territory. This led to an abrupt end to casinos. The city of Monte Carlo benefited from it and thereafter, it gained a reputation as the city of the game.

Today, casino games are very popular. The long tradition of venues is still proudly mentioned today and a visit to the casino is considered a social event with some inherent rules, such as being dressed in a certain way.

1800: Horse racing attracts a large audience

In the 18th century, horse racing was very popular in England and increasingly popular in other countries. In Germany, the first racecourse was opened in 1822, in Bad Doberan. Originally, races were held to find out which were the best horses to breed, but as their popularity increased so much, racing became more and more focused on the sport.

Even today, horse betting is very famous in England and is considered a form of gambling for upper-class people. In this way, of course, the odds of winning can be influenced by knowledge of the sector, although many players also bet simply for fun without having much knowledge about the sport.

1865: The totalizing system revolutionizes the world of betting

By betting against a bookmaker, participants receive fixed odds. In this way, the players already know in advance the benefit they will obtain in the event that their bet on the event is a winner.

In the mid-19th century, a new type of bet was introduced, the totalizing system. The participants were not betting against a bookmaker but among themselves. Originally, the totalizer system was created for horse racing, but is still used today for the lottery, in the so-called betting pools (or football batons) and in similar games. The smaller the number of participants in an event, the greater the benefit when it is played.

The bet of the players deducts the fee for the organizer, which will be distributed among the winners in the case of the bet with a totalizer system. As the odds of this type of bet may change during the course of the event, no fixed winnings can be given in advance. In the lottery, for example, the participant knows how much they will win only when the numbers of the draw are known. In the case of horse racing, the odds are usually known, although it is not certain.

Times of war, also for play

The 1872 ban failed to prevent gambling from continuing to be commonplace in society. It only changed the area where people practiced it following their impulse. Illegal concentrations were created to continue playing clandestinely.

Intermittent attempts to legalize gambling were rejected during the Weimar Republic, also regarding the danger of gambling addiction, although the ban was carried out by the Nazis in 1933.

Until the war ended, most casinos had to close again. Typical gambling dens, such as the Baden Baden casino, never had the same success again in the Federal Republic after their reopening.

The “games of skill” machines

In the late 20th century, the first slot machines were developed in the United States. The Liberty Bell, designed by German mechanic Charles August Fey in San Francisco, was the first example of a three-reel system.

This entertainment technique also spread rapidly throughout Europe, although it was not allowed in the German Empire or the Weimar Republic due to the local ban on gambling. Anyway, games of skill were allowed, so many other machines were made that worked without financial resources or gave an opportunity to earn money.

Today: Online gambling is booming

Like gaming machines, betting is increasingly established on the internet. On the web, there are plenty of betting possibilities available, including so-called “live bets,” which allow you to play in real time while the event is taking place.

The rates are also lower, since online betting operators such as NetBet have much lower costs than those of fixed houses. However, classic betting houses still exist, especially in horse racing, where you can bet on the same job. It is still very popular, since it is considered a social event and the classic form of gambling is for many people another part of the tradition.

A new dimension out of place and time: betting in the digital age

The rise of technology and digitization has not gone unnoticed by the gaming industry. Since the mid-90s, players have had the opportunity to try their luck on the Internet and what was unusual then is now widespread.

The offer covers almost any possibility: You can try the typical casino games (roulette, poker, blackjack) and also many other games. This includes, for example, card games and lotteries. In principle, all significant variations in the history of the game.

The arrival of online casinos makes playing independent of time and place. You can play at any time, no matter where. Because of this, many houses offer their games for free, where players can bet without spending money. This is another advantage over normal casinos.

An incredible story that is far from coming to an end

Gambling has had an incredible history, always closely linked to society and governments. Even today, the state regulates gambling with laws in most regions of the planet.

We may be curious about the development of the game over the next decades or centuries, and how all the technical advances that the future will undoubtedly hold, will affect the powerful gaming industry.

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