The history of gambling – a journey through the ages

A bettor in this day and age has a sheer endless amount of possibilities to bet on their favorite games or sports. Walk into a brick and mortar casino at Atlantic City’s boardwalk and play some blackjack, jump into some awesome slot-action at an online casino. Perhaps you are a sports fan, who is looking for crazy odds to satisfy his or her thirst for winning. Whatever the case, Everything is right there for the taking, all at your fingertips, attainable in seconds.

However, the world of gambling has definitely not always been like that. In the history of humanity, gambling has seen many forms, some more successful than others.

To understand how we got to this point today, we need to go back to the beginning and commence a journey through the ages, a trip through the history of gambling. To top it all of we take a peek into what the future of gambling has in store for us.

The beginnings

While the first games were probably conceived later, the first evidence of gambling-related objects dates back to over 40,000 BC. Six-sided dice, which were most likely based on objects related to an ancient practice of predicting the future. For the first conception of an actual gambling game, however, we have to go a little further.

Ancient Dice

Firm evidence of gambling stretches back to 2300 BC. A lottery system in ancient China, in the shape of the game of Keno, was a way to win big. It was also a way for the State to fund major projects like the Great Wall of China. The practice of using lottery systems to fund substantial civic projects has been implemented throughout history – Harvard and Yale were both established using lottery funds – and continue to do so until the present day.

Dice saw an occurrence once again in the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. People back then loved to gamble; it even got to the point where cities and countries were banning the fun and imposing a hefty fine when you got caught.

This prohibition led to innovative measures by street hustlers, where they used chips instead of real money to make it seem like they were just playing for fun. This idea stuck because chips are still the main currency in all land-based casinos! Hustlers weren’t shy with ripping off their customers either, evidence of loaded dice was found in the ruins of Pompeii, dating back to 79 AD.

Moving forward – Playing cards and table games

Playing cards saw their first introduction in Korea back in the sixth century. Back then, the cards were used for all kinds of games, none of which we know the rules of today. Especially China had plenty of card games; again, the cards used at this time bore minimal relation to the standard 52 card decks we know today.

To find the first game that we still play today, you have to go back to the 15th century in France and Italy. Baccarat was their preferred game of choice. This two-player card game initially found its roots in Italy, whereafter it migrated to France. It took quite a bit of tweaking and many different versions to get to the beloved game we play today.

The standard version performed in casinos all over the world came from Cuba via Britain to the US, ever-changing along the way. Back then, just like it is today, it was more of a spectator sport than a game. Every casino features it prominently due to its popularity with high rolling gamblers.

Famous all over the world, blackjack is still capturing the hearts of many bettors. What you might not know, is that blackjack’s history lies deep in the past, the first documented games were played over 400 years ago. Some say that the mother of all casino games has its roots in Spain, while others point to the French for inventing earlier forms of blackjack.

What we certainly know for sure is that the French game of vingt-et-un in the 17th century is a direct forefather of the modern game. Exactly the same game that arrived in the US along with early settlers from France. 

Naming it blackjack was an American innovation, of course, which came from a promotion in Nevada casinos in the 1930s. To make the game more appealing, 10 to 1 odds were paid out if the player won with a blackjack (clubs or spades) together with an ace of spades. While these amazing odds didn’t stand the test of time, the name did. 

  • First casinos

Coinciding with blackjack’s emergence were the early signs of casinos, even though they were known more as gambling houses at the time. These were nothing like the palaces you can now find in Vegas or AC and certainly not like the one you will find online.

They used back rooms of restaurants or illegal basements to find a way around the prohibition of games. The US also had its fair share of illegal gambling houses, especially at the turn of the 19th century. Even using steamboats to take prosperous farmers and traders up and down the Mississippi, having a great time along the way.

Original roulette is the same one that we refer to today as the American Roulette wheel, featuring the double zero. This variation originated in the gaming houses of Paris in 1796 and is still popular today. After 50 years or so, the European Roulette wheel was invented, the one with the single zero, which is clearly the preferred wheel for many players.

Roulette rose tremendously in popularity over the 19th century, when the Monte Carlo casino embraced the single zero variation of the game. Although it spread across the globe, in America, you are still more likely to find the original!

We all know it as one of the most famous card games – known for it’s bluffing and highly entertaining gameplay – poker finds its roots in various other card games. Up until very recently, around 1970, poker was overlooked as a worthwhile casino game.

Everything changed when the World Poker tournaments started happening. Perhaps the most defining moment occurred back in 2003 when an amateur won the championship and took home 2.5 million dollars. This event sparked the outbreak of poker as a popular game, still applying today.

Last, but definitely not least, came the slots. Known as the gambling machine back, or one-armed-bandit in the 19th century. Using cards that spun on drum reels, combinations were formed that could pay out big prizes. Early machines spewed out cigars and gum instead of money, while current day machines only come in the cash variant.

Famed throughout the slot industry, the Liberty Bell machine marked the beginning of the real slot game revolution. To this day, you still notice the bell symbols in many slots, both online as offline. Casinos owe much of their popularity to these handy devices, single-handedly they turned the casino into a fun place for anyone!

Gambling – banned or legalized?

For the United States, gambling was neither allowed nor forbidden for a long time. Tensions grew over the years, with gambling supposedly causing many issues. Eventually, this tension led to a nationwide prohibition on gambling in 1910. Similarly to alcohol prohibition, gambling laws were difficult to enforce, with gaming continuing on many different levels across the country. 

Tropicana_Resort_Casino_Atlantic City
The Famous Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City

Finally, in the early 1930s, gambling was legalized once again, to alleviate some of the economic pressure that was hurting the US. People started using games like bingo to sponsor fundraisers, just to raise money in these desperate times. Out of the 11 states that allowed gaming, only one of them made nearly all gambling activities legal. In 1941, the El Rancho casino was built in the middle of the Nevada desert, the birth of Sin City.

Rapid expansion followed throughout the 1950s, including substantial investment from the mob, which saw Las Vegas emerge as “the place to be” for folks who enjoy gambling and the nightlife. Various cities have tried to compete with Vegas for this position, and many failed. Only one city stood tall, our very own Atlantic City, famous for its boardwalk casinos.

Technology and Internet, the new casino

Technological advances affected every part of life, including gambling. With the rise of arcade games and their revolutionary methods, slots began innovating to cater to younger audiences. So-called video slots paved the way for game designers to come up with the most extravagant ideas.

New pay lines and slots with up to 5 reels were introduced, video poker saw the light of day, and many more cool new types of slots helped grow the popularity of the industry.

Throughout the 80s, you would see improvements and new games regularly on offer. For slot players, they would be limited in terms of the number of reels and, in turn, the jackpots. However, as more slots were produced, the quality improved, which led to an increase in players and jackpots.

Computers became a staple in American households in the 90s, which gave way to the casino industry to tap into this market. Combined with the internet, it gave us the reason for this website to exist in the first place.

Online casinos

Taking a giant preemptive jump into the 21st century, Microgaming created the first online casinos in 1994! As the pioneers of online gaming, they helped build some of the most iconic games that people still love and admire today. Within five years, the industry would be worth over a billion dollars, and today is a multibillion-dollar industry with over a thousand online casinos worldwide. 

Every type of table game and slot found their way on to the online platform, with so many more original games. Graphics improved drastically, and pay lines were enhanced. Different game providers were competing with each other, who could create the next big thing to entertain the masses.


Some of these latest innovations which shook the entire industry were:

Despite these, online gambling was always frowned upon and never fully sanctioned. 

Atlantic City History | New Jersey First Online Casino | Earliest Here we are today

Fortunately for us, online gambling was finally legalized in 2011. Depending on the state you live in, you get to enjoy online casinos, sportsbooks, and online poker. New Jersey immediately took the opportunity and ran with it, becoming the first state to allow its citizens to gamble legally through the internet. Atlantic City History | New Jersey First Online Casino | Earliest Here we are today

Now you have a clear understanding of how we got to this point in time. Online casinos in the Garden State pride themselves in this history and still service all kinds of games to remember the legacy of gambling.

If you, too, want to play at some of the best online casinos in the state, look no further! We explain in detail what you should look for and which online casinos are best for you. Take a glimpse at some casino reviews or learn more about some of the games mentioned in this article at our game guide section. 

Happy betting!