An Unusual Timeline of Gambling History (3000 BC –1900 AD)

Posted by: on Apr 2, 2012 | No Comments

Are you surprised to know that gambling existed even in 3000 BC Mesopotamia? In fact, the oldest six-sided dice was invented in Northern Iraq (erstwhile Mesopotamia).


Let’s explore the era when the kernels of betting were sown across cultures worldwide and get a deeper insight into the development of gambling.


3000 – 1500 BC


A pyramid near Cairo had a tablet explaining the additional five days in the 360-day Egyptian calendar. The tablet elucidated that the God of Night, Thoth, had won a bet with Moon, claiming five more days, which was beyond the jurisdiction of the God of Creation, Ra.


During this time, the Chinese Emperor Yao invented a game with more than a hundred pieces. The game was to be played between two people and spectators were invited to bet on the potential winner.


India, too, witnessed the rise of dice games, chariot racing and cattle betting around this period.


500 – 1000 AD


Emperor Justinian of the Roman Empire and Orthodox Church Head issued two laws – one for the common man and the other for the clerics. The former banned people from gambling, whether private or public. The latter decreed that clerics caught betting would be punished or even suspended.


As opposed to this, Caliph Abdul-Malik of Arabia followed the pattern of tossing coins to decide the fate of the conquered territory’s wealth. He is known to have lined up his military officers in the courtyard and asked them to toss coins to come to a decision regarding their individual share in Syrian wealth.


1100 – 1200


The game of cards was invented during the reign of the Chinese Emperor S’eun-ho. The cards were designed by the members of the Emperor’s harem and were called Teen Tsze Pae.


At the time of the Third Crusade, the rulers of France and England, King Philip II and King Richard I passed a law forbidding the ranks below that of knights to gamble for money. The law, while allowing the rulers to gamble, limited a common man’s loss to 20 shillings per day.


1300 – 1400


France revised its anti-gambling laws to include cards among the list of prohibited games. Bavaria banned card games at around the same time.


In 1377, Johannes von Rheinfelden, a Dominican monk, wrote about a newly invented game of 52 cards.


In 1394, the then Dukes of Saxony and Letzburg played a card game to win the forest of Ardennes.


In 1399, the provost of France, Guillaume de Tignonville, introduced a law forbidding the working class from playing a game of chance on business days.


1400 – 1500


The Italian Duke of Savoy, Amadeus VII, issued a law forbidding gambling. However, women were allowed to bet on ‘pins’ and other small accessories.


Around the same time, the English King Edward IV prohibited games of dice. These games could be played only during the Christmas holidays which lasted for 12 days. This verdict was reinforced by King Henry VII in 1496.


L’Éduce in France conducted a lottery in order to raise funds to improve fortification. This was the earliest lottery recorded in history in which people paid to win. The prize was 300 florins.


In 1444, Belgium organized a lottery to collect money for the town poor. This lottery resembled modern betting in many ways since tickets were introduced and winners received prize money.


1500 – 1600


French King, Francis I, legalized lotteries in five cities – Bordeaux, Lille, Lyons, Paris and Strasbourg. Europe’s first public lottery took place in 1530 with the intention of gathering funds for social work.


In 1566, Queen Elizabeth I held the first public lottery of England to repair the harbors. Approximately 400,000 tickets are purchased. The prize money was a sum equivalent to today’s 17,500 USD!


In 1576, Italian Duke Andrea Doria designed a lottery pattern for selecting five members for the major colleges in Genoa. In this lottery, each candidate was given a number instead of using their own names.


1600 – 1700

England (1600 – 1620)


King James I sanctioned a lottery in 1612 for raising funds for a Virginian colony in America (then, the New World). The Virginia Company conducted this lottery. However, in 1621, James I introduced a law preventing the Virginia Company from hosting lotteries in the future.


Again, in 1631, King Charles I sanctioned a lottery to gather funds for building the first aqueduct of England.


The Republic of Venice (1638)


The Great Council opened a wing in the Palace of San Moisè called Ridotto, which also became the first government-owned casino in Europe.


The New World (1660s – 1680s)


Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting public gambling. The British colony witnessed its first anti-gambling law.


North America saw its first horserace track built in 1665 on Long Island and the first horserace event took place in 1668.


In 1682, William Penn enacted The Great Law to prohibit gambling/betting in Pennsylvania.


Britain in the 1690s


The British Parliament conducted a lottery to gather money for war against France. Later in the decade, the Parliament banned non-governmental lotteries/games of chance.


1700 – 1800

France in the 1730s


French finance minister Le Pellefier-Desforts issued a royal decree for a two-year lottery to popularize Parisian civic bonds. Only the bondholders could buy the tickets. The celebrated writer Voltaire and the renowned explorer Charles-Marie de La Condamine won the lottery. Voltaire won more than one million francs!


Britain (1735 – 1775)


In 1739, the British Parliament banned several gambling games – ace of hearts, basset, faro, hazard and roly-poly.


In 1772, King George III did away with the groom porter’s office, which was established 250 years ago to arrange royal gambling sports. He also initiated a law prohibiting servants from playing cards.


America (1775 – 1795)


In 1776, an order by George Washington read, “All officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers are positively forbid playing at cards, or other games of chance.” Washington believed that “gaming of every kind is…the foundation of evil.”


However, in 1793, the government ran Federal Lottery No. 1 to build the Federal City in Columbia. Washington was the first citizen to buy a ticket.


1800 – 1900



In 1805, the biggest horse race of the world took place in Huntsville, Tennessee. The game saw a bet of $5,000.


Louisiana outlawed gambling in 1820.


In 1827, John Davis opened a casino in New Orleans and decorated it like one of the plush West End London clubhouses.


The El Dorado casino in San Francisco opened in 1848 and made monthly gains of $100,000 to $200,000.


In 1861, Nevada introduced a law against playing games of chance. However, 1869 saw Nevada legalizing gambling for those aged 17 and above. The age bar was raised to 21 in 1875.


The Louisiana Lottery Company (1868 – 1895), which made $300 million in it lifetime, was abolished.




Napoléon Bonaparte legalized gambling houses in 1806.


In 1857, public gaming was declared illegal.




Crockford’s Gaming Club was launched by William Crockford in 1828 in London. The club featured hazard, whist and cock fighting.In 1835, the British Parliament prohibited cockfighting.


In 1845, the Parliament tightened sanctions against established casinos through the Gambling Act.


These were some of the major events from 3000 BC to 1900 AD. These prove that governments across cultures and centuries have banned gaming several times. However, almost all of them had to turn to gambling (and legalize it) in order to fill the public coffers.


Keep a look out for the next post on the development of gambling from 1900 to 2011.


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