Many of today’s modern casino games are just the latest in a long line of gambling activities that date back to the earliest records of civilization. Gambling artifacts have been uncovered from ancient societies in China and Italy as well as in Egypt, where ivory dice dating to the period before 1500 B.C. have been discovered. More than 3000 years later, a more modernized pair of dice was being used in private gaming halls throughout 18th century England in the earliest form of today’s popular game of craps.
Keno, another one of the earliest forms of gambling and one with some of the worst odds for the player, is said to have originated in ancient China during the Han Dynasty. The first Chinese version of the game featured 120 characters drawn from a popular poem of the time. Although other forms of a lottery were played later in Europe, the introduction of Keno to the U.S. was made by Chinese sailors visiting San Francisco. The Americanized version used numbers instead of characters and 80 boxes instead of 120 in much the same form as is found in casinos today.
Early forms of playing cards dating back to the 9th century have also been found in China. But when playing cards began to be used later throughout Europe some of the intricate designs on the Asian variety were replaced with cards representing men of royalty. Not until the 1500s did a female break into the designs when the French replaced one of the Kings in their deck with a Queen. That was one of the first designs of the standard 52 card deck that we still use today for some of the most popular casino games including poker and blackjack.
We can also thank the French for inventing another one of the bastions of casino games, the game of roulette. The version of the original French wheel from 1842 had only one zero. And while the winnings generated by the single zero wheels were sufficient to launch the country of Monaco towards its fabulous wealth, the casinos in America felt they needed to add yet another zero to the wheel in order to increase the house’s advantage. Today, any serious fan of online roulette knows to search out the European wheel instead of the American wheel because of the better odds for the player.
As with many of today’s modern casino games, the true beginnings of the game of baccarat are disputed. Most feel that the game originated in either France or Italy, but few doubt that the modern version of the game can be traced, once again, to the French. The game, known in France as Chemin de Fer was very popular among nobility in the 16th century and by the 18th century it had become the most popular game along the French Riviera. Baccarat finally gained popularity in the U.S. when it was introduced at the Sands casino in Las Vegas in the late 1950s. The fun and excitement in many of today’s modern casino games can be even more enjoyable when you become aware of the long and often colorful history behind so many.
By Cary Clark
Cary Clark is an avid traveler & prolific writer who has written extensively for newspapers, travel magazines & city walking guides.
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