Gambling and Gambling Sites through the Ages

If you are familiar with ancient Egyptian mythology, you will know that the Gods themselves routinely visited heavenly gambling sites to play a game of dice at which they staked humans, the Earth and even the Universe. Mankind too has been gambling ever since they began communicating. They gambled on the weather, they gambled about the safety of the roads they travelled and once they had goods or money to spare, they gambled away (or won) vast fortunes at the throw of the dice.

While gambling was initially a private affair, as societies formed and trade developed, gambling sites, taverns, fighting pits and other forms of entertainment came into existence. The first archaeological evidence to support the theory that gambling is one of the oldest known sports came from excavation of ancient gambling sites where archaeologists found dice created out of square shaped knucklebones. They also unearthed undeciphered clay tablets that might have recorded gambling victories or defeats that occurred at these ancient gambling sites.

The earliest known recording of gambling can be found in the Indian Epic “The Mahabharata”. One episode in this famous epic, tells of how an uncle of a Prince in Northern India, cheats during a game of dice to win a Kingdom and vast riches for his nephew. The epic is over 5,000 years old. In fact, Indian Royalty has been playing dice ever since history came to be written. Indeed, the game of dice in India was not restricted to the royalty alone, the common man too gambled with dice at gambling sites and dance venues that were known as “Madira-paan” avenues (wine and tobacco leaf sites).

Evidences of gambling down the ages have turned up all over the world. It seems, wherever humans settled, they had gambling sites. When archaeologists found the first pair of ivory dice at an archaeological site in Greece, they were astonished when carbon dating proved the dice to be over 3,700 years old.

As gambling grew in popularity, the gambling sites too underwent development. Special gambling sites were setup where officials kept track of winnings and losses and also collected tax from the winners. Indeed, it is said that the Roman emperor Claudius loved gambling so much that he had his personal carriage modified so he could throw the dice and gamble even as he travelled. Talk about taking the game with you. Seems Claudius had developed the world’s first portable gambling sites.

Not to be out-done, Native Americans (like the Greeks) believed that gambling was introduced by the Gods. Archaeological digs in South America turned up small square painted stones. These stones were not only used for gambling but stones blessed by the high priests were used to foretell the future. Traditionally, gambling sites also provided refreshment in the form of the local alcoholic beverage.

State sponsored gambling was first introduced in America by the continental army in 1793 and the first lottery was purchased by George Washington himself (we bet you never knew that).

Some Interesting Recorded Gambling milestones through the ages:

  • 31 A.D.: After Jesus was crucified, Roman soldiers threw dice and the winner took the robes that belonged to Jesus.
  • 1530: Bingo was born in Italy.
  • 1776: Lotteries introduced in America.
  • 1819: Saratoga Springs introduced poker rooms as a tourist attraction.
  • 1863: John Morrissey introduces the first gambling championships at Saratoga.

While gambling and gambling sites were pretty much widespread across the ancient world, much of it regretfully, has been lost to time. We are sure that gambling would not have been restricted to the throw of dice alone – there would have been many other forms of gambling after all, humans are nothing if not innovative. Perhaps in due course as more archaeological sites are unearthed, more will come to light about ancient gambling sites and the ancient art of gambling.