Gambling History

Gambling history goes  back a long way.The exact period in history when man first began to gamble is unknown but pairs of dice have been found in Egyptian tombs over 4,000 years old. Gambling games were also played in ancient China, where poker is attributed to have originated. When Columbus first came to America in 1492, Native Americans were participating in their own gambling games by wagering on the outcome of sporting events on a game resembling Lacrosse.       

Gambling history in Early America

Gambling history in America started with the first English settlers in the 1600’s with their traditions including parlor card games that were part of the aristocratic lifestyle. However, when Puritans colonized in Massachusetts Bay they had the freedom to create their own culture which included hostility towards gambling. They outlawed the possession of cards, dice and gambling tables in their communities. Nevertheless, gambling prevailed in other localities. Many English colonists considered gambling to be a suitable form of entertainment

The Revolution

The colony of Virginia was the first to realize that lotteries could raise capital for local governments. Eventually all 13 original colonies were raising lottery revenue. Proceeds helped build universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Lotteries also funded churches and libraries. Founding Fathers George Washington, Ben Franklin and John Hancock were promoters of specific lotteries for public works projects. When the Revolutionary War started, the Continental Congress voted for a $10 million lottery to finance the war.

Westward Ho

During the early 1800’s the taverns and roadhouses allowed dice and card games, creating the first version of casinos. As America’s population began to increase, casinos became more lavish. The Mississippi River was a major trade route where merchants and entrepreneurs brought their cash. Gambling on the riverboat's became a favorite pastime for them and New Orleans became the gambling capitol of America. In 1849 gambling followed the pioneers to California during the gold rush. Gambling establishments began to flourish there and west of the Mississippi, including Nevada. In the late 1800’s roulette was adopted from France and the slot machine was invented. Much of the public viewed gambling as a social ill because it was linked to alcoholism and prostitution. Reformers convinced jurisdictions to shut down the dens of iniquity. Most states discontinued lotteries as well. Riverboat gambling dried up with the advent of the railroad. By the end of the century only Nevada allowed gambling.

The 20th Century

In 1910 Nevada shut the door on gambling which left horse race wagering the only legal entity in America. In 1912 Arizona and New Mexico were granted statehood under the condition that gambling remains outlawed. During 1920’s prohibition the publics' thirst for gambling matched that of alcohol. Casinos went underground along with the speakeasies. In 1931 Nevada legalized gambling again and would remain the only state to do so until the latter half of the century. Gambling flourished underground as organized crime made heavy investments in Nevada, and prospered by controlling off track horse betting and the numbers lottery. During the 1950’s the U.S. Senate investigated organized crime’s link to illegal gambling. Eventually the mob departed Vegas. States put bookies out of business by legalizing off track betting and numbers games. Atlantic City legalized gambling in 1976, and the Indian Gaming Act was approved by congress in the 1980’s which allowed casinos on reservation land. Dockside riverboat gambling made a comeback, racetracks installed slot machines while Vegas reinvented itself by building mega resorts during the 1990’s.

Century 21

Gambling history has evolved to the following: The American Gaming Association reports that there are 832,988 slot machines spread out over 1,151 casinos across 44 states with more on the way. It appears that the American culture has embraced gambling as an acceptable form of entertainment.

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