If we ever needed evidence that gambling has been a part of our ethos since time immemorial, all we need to do is look into the Mahabharata. This is only one of the ancient texts that cite instances of games of chance. The science and art of this adrenalin thumping pastime has undergone a series of changes to take on its latest avatar, in the form on online gambling and casinos.
Drawing its Roots
It is believed that the first instances of gambling were divinatory in nature, meaning that different types of marked objects were cast to interpret the intentions of the Gods and what the future held in store for us. It was only a short step from here to making a bet on the outcome of these throws. There are instances of such betting and gambling in ancient Chinese and Egyptian texts, as well as the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Bible.
What we now know as the organised system of “making a bet” began in the 1400s, with the inception of lotteries, which later sowed the seed for the legal gaming house or today’s casinos, sometime around the 1800s. In fact, it is believed that casinos first sprung to life in Cincinnati, in the 1830s, when immigrants established gambling houses. These were called “10 Percent Houses” because the house would take a 10% cut from the games played.
In fact, it was said that mathematicians took an interest in card games, studying meticulously the science of it. The period between the 15th and the 18th centuries saw gambling grow in social status, with such games being featured in the Royal Balls and other social gatherings of the time.
The Gold Rush
Meanwhile, the American state of California started seeing a gold rush in the dawn of the 19th century. The mining industry brought in various forms of gambling, including card games and horse racing. The market for this new found gaming was highly competitive, leaving prospective owners to shell close to $40,000 annually towards rentals, paid in the form of gold dust. Of course this mining phase was soon curbed by the great depression of 1929, a period that saw a change in the way the law looked at games of chance, which played an important role in the legislation regarding such gaming.
Nevada in the Spotlight
In 1931, the state of Nevada was motivated to legalise most forms of gambling in order to promote tourism. In fact, many casinos of the state were primarily financed by notorious mobsters of the time, mainly because of the sheer capital that setting up and running such establishments required. A noteworthy mention here is Las Vegas’ Flamingo, opened in 1947 through the efforts of Bugsy Siegel. He surprised all by managing to procure a gambling licence despite his criminal record. Nevertheless, this proved that background did not matter in Las Vegas, and high rollers swarmed in to make the city what it is today.
Baby Steps in Asia
Post independence, India also found a love for social gambling and card play. The concept of playing a recreational card game grew, weaning people away from clubs and pubs, just as it did around the world. People were seen playing on the roadside tea stalls and, most popularly, on trains. This has become a practice followed even today.
The city that really struck gold with the gambling revolution in Asia was Macau. What most people don’t know about the city is that it has been home to legal gambling for a hundred years now.
The Gaming Capital of the World
The western world discovered this Asian hub during the latter part of the 20th century and things really began to look up for the city. People flooded in, not for destination weddings but due to the title of the “Gaming Capital of the World” that Macau had acquired.
The influx of western business houses has, today, established Macau’s reputation as the Asian Las Vegas, with the setting up of a host of Las Vegas-like icons here, such as the Venetian Macau and Sands Macau. A mix of western and Chinese games, like Keno, Pai Gow, Blackjack, Roulette and Sic Bo, are immensely popular here, apart from traditional games like Poker and slots.
While Vegas casinos collectively generated $5.8 billion dollars in the latter half of 2013, its Asian counterpart totalled up to an astounding $41 billion in the same period. We do not have to be a Ramanujan to figure out where the casino capital of the world is today!
The Emergence of Online Gambling
With high stakes beginning to roll in such destinations, the focus began to shift to the online interface during the late 20th century. With the evolution of technology from desktop computers to laptops, and then to mobile devices, social online gambling grew exponentially, capturing over one-fifth of the online gaming market today.
As of 2013, there are over 865 online casinos, with online gambling having being legalised in over 85 countries, including India. This has turned to be a $35 billion industry, which is the same as the GDP of Slovenia!
The evolution of modern gambling goes on to show that games of chance are likely to continue to be a part of our ethos, regardless of whether we prefer to visit a physical casino or use the online space.