Gambling History – Slots

The first mechanical slot machine was invented in 1895 by a San Francisco car mechanic, a Bavarian immigrant named Charles Fey. Fey’s slot machine, called the “Liberty Bell,” had three spinning reels, with diamonds, hearts, spades, and one Liberty Bell (showing a crack) painted around each reel. If the player got three bells in a row, he hit the jackpot, receiving fifty cents or ten nickels.

Fey’s machines were a huge success, and he had trouble building enough in his small shop. However, twelve years later, a Chicago manufacturer of arcade machines, began production of the “Operator Bell,” a device very similar the Fey’s Liberty Bell. The new machine had ten additional symbols on each reel and was more mobile and slightly narrower than Fey’s device.

In 1909, San Francisco prohibited slot machines. Nevada followed suit a year later. Then in 1911, California outlawed slot machines statewide. During that period, a number of politicians made a big show of being photographed destroying slot machines. However, Nevada re-introduced gambling in the 1930s, and the “one-armed bandit” became a mainstay of the Las Vegas casino.

The Age of Electronics

Early twentieth century mechanical slot machines had a big handle. A player was required to pull the handle to play the game and to get the reels to spin. However, there were many problems with such machines and it was easy to cheat. In the mid-1960s, electronic slot machines were created. Electronic slots were more secure than mechanical slot machines. Electronic slots also allowed the casinos to offer bigger prizes. Mechanical slots had a physical limitation on the number of stops on the reels. On electronic slots however, operators could make as many stops as they wanted.

The first video slot device was introduced to Las Vegas in 1975. Unfortunately, video slots were not well accepted by players because they could not see actual spinning reels. These video machines did not become popular until the 1980s, after the acceptance of International Game Technology’s popular video draw poker machine.

Nickel machines, video-based machines that permit multi-betting-lines on it, have been introduced into the United States from Australia in recent years. These have proved to be very popular.

Gambling History Roulette

The game of roulette may have been invented by the 17th-century French mathematician Blaise Pascal, or by the Chinese, who taught the game to Dominican monks who later brought it to France. No matter its beginnings, by the late 18th century, roulette was being played in some of the casinos of Europe. Prince Charles III of Monaco, who developed the casino at Monte Carlo in his tiny principality during the 1860s, brought the game to his casino, where it was an almost immediate hit with the gamblers of his day.

The Roulette Wheel

Roulette, which is the French word for “small wheel,” is a game of chance in which players spin a horizontal wheel. The object is to bet on the particular red or black numbered compartment inside which a small ball will come to rest. The roulette wheel consists of a slightly convex solid wooden disk Around the rim of the wheel are metal partitions called “separators” or “frets.” There are 36 compartments or pockets between these partitions, painted alternately red and black. On European-style wheels, there is a green painted 37th compartment which has a 0. On American-style wheels, there are two green compartments called 0 and 00. The wheel spins effortlessly on a single ball bearing.

Playing the Game

A roulette table may have five, six, or seven sets of chips, one set for each player. Normally, all chips have the same value. When the winning number comes up, the winnings may be as much as 35 times the bet which is played on one, two, three, four, six, twelve, twenty-four numbers, or on single bets. These may be on red, black, even, odd, passe or manque. If the ball falls into the 0 compartment, the single bets lose half their value, unless the player opts to wait for the next throw, hoping to come up a winner.

In European roulette, there is only a single zero compartment. In American roulette, a double zero compartment is added, so the configuration of the table and the numbered sections of the wheel change. This version is generally faster than the European variety.

Gambling History – Craps

Modern craps is said to be an offshoot of the British dicing game called “hazard.” William of Tyre claimed that he and his fellow Crusaders invented the game of hazard to pass the time while they were laying siege to the castle of Hazarth in 1125. Thus, the game may take its name from the castle. However, other authorities believe the game takes its name from the Arabic words “al zar,” which means “the dice.” In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer makes frequent mention of hazard as a metaphor for life, with runs of both good luck and bad luck.

The French learned the game from the English and called it “craps” or French hazard. “Craps” is a corruption of the word “crabs,” the French word for a pair of ones. In French hazard, the player throws against the bank or the house. In English (also called chicken hazard), the player throws against another player.

In America, Bernard de Mandeville is said to have adapted craps from hazard in New Orleans in 1813. The game was played enthusiastically on riverboats, on wharves, and in private gaming houses. This version of the game permitted only “field” and “come bets,” which made craps extremely vulnerable against fixed dice. Naturally, players tended to use these fixed dice quite a bit.

The dice-maker John H. Winn developed an innovative version of craps in which players could bet for, or bet against the roller. This meant that fixed dice were no longer needed. The very popular versions of modern craps are based on Winn’s invention.

By 1910, craps was said to be the most popular casino game in the world. Today, as many as 30 million Americans play craps annually.

Playing Craps

A player, known as the “shooter” accepts bets from the “faders,” those who are betting against him. If the first roll is 7 or 11, this is known as a “natural” and the shooter wins and may play again. If the first roll is 2, 3, (“craps”) or 12, (“boxcars”) the shooter loses the bet but keeps the control of the dice. If the shooter so wishes, he or she may play again. Any other roll is called the shooter’s “point.” The odds are different, depending on the point totals, and the faders may make additional bets with the shooter or among themselves.

The shooter now tries to re-roll his or her point without rolling a seven. If a seven is rolled, the shooter loses the bet and the control of the dice. If the shooter rolls or “makes” the point, he or she wins the bet and is permitted to play again.


Gambling History – Poker

It is not clear exactly how poker came into existence. Some believe it came out of Chinese dominoes. There is some research to suggest that the Chinese transferred dominoes to thick paper, or cards, around the year 1000 A.D. Poker may also be a descendant of a card game called Ganja that was developed in India.

As-Nas in Persia

However, a seventeenth century Persian game called “As Nas” is probably the direct ancestor of Poker. As-Nas requires five players and a deck of 25 cards with 5 suits. It has great similarity to poker; two cards are dealt, followed by a round of betting; then two more cards and another round of betting. There is then a final card, and a last round of betting. The winner is the player with the highest ranked card.

French soldiers may have learned this game and brought it home, because the French developed a bluffing and betting game called “poque.” Poque is said to be the first card game to use of a deck consisting of the modern suits.
A German game called “pochen” (or “pochspiel “) and an English game called “Bragg” are also related. (Pochen is the German word for “bluffing.”) French settlers apparently brought poque to the New Orleans in the Louisiana Territory.

Modern Poker Came Out of New Orleans

It was in New Orleans and on the riverboats that called on the city that modern poker was developed. The early 19th century game was played with only twenty cards, using four suits from ace to ten. Each player was dealt five cards. It quickly became the most popular game on the Mississippi and Ohio riverboats, and traveled west by wagon and train. Stud poker, the draw, and the straight came about during the time of the American Civil War. The joker made was first used as a wild card in the last part of the 19th century.

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The 52-card deck came into general use in the United States during the 1830s, and poker rules became standardized as rule books were developed. The game came into its own in the Old West. Poker soon overcame faro as the saloon favorite, as sharp players discovered how quickly they could get rich from it. Doc Holliday and Wild Bill Hickock, both of whom sometimes earned a living by playing cards, often had to relocate after poker disputes. Poker would be the last game Hickock played; on Aug. 2, 1876, in Deadwood, South Dakota, Hickock was shot by a man named Jack McCall. Wild Bill’s cards, a two-pair hand of black eights and black aces, plus a fifth card, became known as the Dead Man’s Hand.

Gambling History – Scandinavia

Residents of the Viking world entertained themselves and won sums of money by playing a game called “Tafl.” The word means “table” in Old Norse. Although “Tafl” may refer to a number of board games, including Chess (Skak-Tafl or “check-table”), Fox and Geese (Ref-Skak, “fox chess”, Hala-Tafl or Freys-Tafl), Three Men’s Morris (“Quick-Tafl”) and Nine Men’s Morris, it most often refers to a game called Hnefa-Tafl or “King’s Table.” This game was popular in Scandinavia before 400 A. D. and went with the Vikings to Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Britain, Wales and the Ukraine.

The Board and Pieces

Hnefatafl and its variants were played on boards as small as seven squares by seven squares and as large as 19 squares by 19 squares. These were often made of wood, and sometimes had holes drilled in the middle of each playing square. A beautiful carved board with 13 squares on each side was found at Gokstad, Norway. This particular board had a Nine Men’s Morris layout carved on the opposite side. Some boards were made from walrus ivory, and some were marked out with charcoal or scratched onto the surface of thin rocks.

Gaming pieces were often hemispherical and made of antler, amber, bone, clay, glass, horn, stone, jet, wood or the teeth of horses. For boards with nine by nine square configurations, there were sixteen dark pieces surrounded eight light pieces with an additional king. Boards with a larger number of squares often had twelve light pieces and a king facing twenty-four dark pieces. Some believe that this arrangement represents a sea-battle, with a king’s ship defended by white ships facing a fleet of dark attackers. The colors were sometimes switched, so that the king’s side used dark pieces.

The king piece was called “Hnefi.” The other pieces were called Hunns (“knobs”) and Teflor (“table-men”). The King was usually bigger and more ornate.

How The Game Was Played

Hnefatafl was sometimes played with dice. The throw of the dice would either show the maximum distance a piece could move, or whether the player could move at all. Gamblers tended to use the dice variation; those who wished to play as a game of skill played without dice.

The king was placed on the central square or throne, and was surrounded by his men. The enemy (usually dark-colored) pieces were set up around the edges of the board. Black generally moved first, and turns alternated between the players.

All pieces moved any number of squares, right or left, or up or down, in a manner like that of the rook in modern chess. Diagonal moves and jumps over other pieces were not permitted. The throne and the four corner squares were off-limits to all pieces except the king. The aim of the game was to put the king into one of the corner squares. The king’s opponent won by capturing the king, or by arranging it so that the king and no more than one defender were surrounded on all sides and could not move anywhere.

Because the sides were uneven, most people played two games, so that each player would have a chance to control the king. Players kept track of how many pieces were lost, and this score was used to decide the ultimate winner.

Gambling History – China

The game called Wei-qi was developed in China, probably during the third millennium B.C. There are a number of stories describing the origins of the game. In one, an emperor created the game as a way to entertain his son. Another emperor is said to have developed the game to strengthen his son’s mental abilities. Yet another story attributes the development of the game to court astrologers during the Chou Dynasty during the first millennium B.C.

It is likely that the game has its origin as a divination tool, since some aspects of the game make astrological references. Apparently, astrologers threw the black and white stones onto the board and were able to interpret the landing patterns as omens. However, it has been played as a board game for nearly 4,000 years, and may be the only game that has been played continuously according to its ancient rules.

Chinese literature first refers to the game in about 600 B.C. By about 200 B.C. Wei-qi began to enter into its first of several Golden Ages, a time in which it became extremely popular throughout the country. The game migrated to Korea sometime after the year 100 A.D., where it was called Paduk or Baduk. It came to Japan sometime after that under the name I-Go. In the year 701 A.D. a decree from a Japanese monastery called for punishment of 100 days of hard labor to anyone caught gambling or pursuing other unwanted pastimes. However, the game of I-Go was exempt, since play of that particular game was thought to build character and strength of mind. In the West, the game was called Go. Descriptions of Go appeared in Italian, German and English in the early 1400s.

How The Game Is Played

The Chinese name “Wei-qi” means “surrounding pieces,” and that defines what the game is about. A square game board carries a grid of 19 lines on each side. Stones are placed on the intersections of lines. Play alternates, one stone at a time, starting with black and then white. The object is to take possession of areas enclosed by the stones, and to capture stones belonging to the other player.

The game is such that a beginning player can sometimes beat an expert. However, it has not yet been possible to develop a computer program that consistently beat a human master of the game.

Gambling History – Rome

Tabula was the Roman version of today’s backgammon. The Latin word “tabula” means “table” or “board,” and it refers to the special board on which the game was played. A popular gambling game, Tabula dates to about the third century B.C. and appears to have evolved directly from the Roman game called Duodecim Scriptorum. It is also similar to Egyptian Senet.

The game was popular with soldiers in the Roman army. It reached Arabia during the Roman expansion into the Mideast in the first century A. D. The Arabian game Nard appears to be a version of Tabula that included aspects of Egyptian Senet. Nard spread to the Far East in the third century A.D. and became extremely popular. Tabula was also apparently the ancestor of a series of games throughout Europe, including Ad Elta Stelpur in Iceland, Taefle and Fayles in Middle Ages England, Tourne-case in France, and Sixe-Ace in Spain.

Tabula was one of the games that was responsible for the gambling craze that swept Rome during the time of the Republic. The situation became so bad that the practice of gambling was declared illegal. The fine for gambling at any time except the Saturnalia festival was four times the amount of the bets, although this law was poorly enforced.

The Rules of Tabula

Information about the rules of Tabula comes mostly from the record of a game played by the Emperor Zeno in the fifth century A.D. The emperor apparently found himself in such a poor position that the scholars of the day saw fit to preserve the details of the game so that others could avoid the emperor’s mistakes.

The board is essentially the same as a modern a backgammon board. Each player has 15 pieces. The colors for these pieces appear to have been mostly black and white, or possibly blue and white. Some other colors have been found, however, and some players apparently used colored glass pieces.

All the pieces entered from the first square and traveled around the board counterclockwise. Three dice were thrown, and the numbers on the dice provided the moves for some or all of the pieces. If a player landed a piece on a point already occupied by an opponent’s piece, the opponent’s piece was removed from the board and had to re-enter the game on the next turn. If a player had more than one man on a point, this position was safe from the opponent; these men could not be captured. A player’s pieces would not be permitted to enter the second half of the board until all the player’s men had entered the board. Players were not allowed to exit the board until all pieces had entered the fourth quarter.

Gambling History – Mesopotamia

The archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, working in the Middle East just after the First World War, discovered four game boards dating back more than 4,500 years. Three of the boards were complete, with “dice” and playing pieces. The discoveries came from the “Royal Cemetery” in the city-state of Ur in Mesopotamia, which is located about 100 miles northwest of what is now Basra in Iraq.

Although the boards had been made of wood and were falling apart, careful archaeological work permitted one of the boards to have its playing surface preserved in its original configuration before it was moved. Similar boards have since been found throughout the region dating back to 2,000 B.C. Some of these later boards were actually scratched into paving stones by those who couldn’t afford the “royal” version of the game.

The Royal Game of Ur

The game is now known as The Royal Game of Ur. Its board is made up of three rows of eight squares, with two squares, the fifth and sixth on the top and bottom, left out. The games found in Ur’s Royal Cemetery had pyramidical dice, each one with its corners shaved flat, and each with two of the four corners marked or inlaid in such a way as to make them stand out. Thus, when a player rolled the dice, each die had a fifty-fifty chance of coming up “marked” or “unmarked.” The game had two players, and each player used three dice. A player could have four possible outcomes by rolling the dice. One marked corner indicated a move of one space, two marked corners allowed the player to move two spaces, three marked corners permitted a movement of three spaces. If no marked sides came up, the player could move four spaces and get another roll.

Each player gets seven playing pieces (five in some versions) that are moved around the board according to the way the dice are thrown. The winner is the first to get all the pieces off the board. Clay tablets written in cuneiform dating back to the third century B.C. have been the source for most of the rules for the game. However, these tablets doe not explain the direction of travel, so the game’s modern followers still get into lively discussions about proper way to play.

Gambling History – Egypt

Senet is an ancient Egyptian game that may be the forerunner of the modern game of backgammon. The game permeated all levels of society. A table-sized board was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen; simple boards have been discovered in the graves of more ordinary folk. More than 50 such boards exit; some of these are in very good condition, with pawns, sticks or knucklebones still intact. The oldest known record of Senet is shown in a tomb painting from the Third Dynasty, in the 27th century B.C.

Rules Have Been Lost

Despite the fact that the game was so well-known, the rules, unfortunately, have been lost in the mists of time. New sets of rules have been developed. These are either based on knowledge of the various drawings of the game being played, along with the written references to it; or by play-testing the game, using knowledge of its origins and the meaning of its markings and pieces.

The Senet game board is made up of 30 squares, three rows of ten squares each. The game was played with throwing sticks, tree branches cut lengthwise. In addition, each player had either five or seven playing pieces. While boards have been found in the tombs of the kings and nobles, they have also been found built into the tops of high walls, possibly by masons taking a gambling break from their work. The three-rows-of-ten squares format has been found repeated in large buildings, and even in antechambers to tombs. It is possible that some of these designs were used as boards with people or life-sized tokens serving as the pawns.

Might Have Started as a Calendar

The board may have been originally designed as a calendar, showing the 30 days of the Egyptian month. Eventually, it became so much a part of Egyptian life that it became part of the culture’s religious practice. Apparently, it was a way to gamble for a pleasant afterlife. Many people believed that a game played with the forces of the Underworld shortly after death would determine whether the recently-departed spirit would get to enter a peaceful eternity or not. Because of this religious significance, when Christianity began to spread throughout Egypt, Senet lost favor as a pagan custom.

Pre Gambling History

Many prehistoric dice were flat objects with just two sides, but the knucklebone, which has four sides, is apparently the direct ancestor of our modern dotted cubical die. One example, found in a Florida archaeological site, was the knucklebone of a prehistoric llama.

The knucklebone is still used as a gaming piece in some cultures. In Arabic, for example, the word for the knucklebones is the same as the word for dice. The Greeks and Romans, however, used the anklebones of a sheep and called them astragali or tali. These bones were also used for fortune telling. Those who predicted the future in this way were called astragalomancers.

In Europe and the ancient Near East, most dice were made of bone or ivory. However, other dice were made from bronze, agate, onyx, marble, rock crystal, amber, jet, alabaster, and porcelain. Etruscan dice made in central Italy about 900 B.C. are very similar to the dice of today, with the opposite faces adding up to seven: 1 and 6, 2 and 5, 3 and 4. Dice in this configuration have also been found in Britain in the prehistoric earthworks of Maiden Castle.

Roman Gaming Tables

Roman gaming tables were engraved or scratched on the marble or stone slabs of the Roman Forum, in the Flavian Amphitheater, on the steps of the temple of Venus and even in other temples. Soldiers were apparently passionate gamblers, and apparently carried their heavy gaming tables when the army moved from one place to another.

The Roman emperors Augustus, Nero and Caligula were serious dice players. Claudius is said to have had dicing tables in his carriages. The imperial dice were thrown from conical beakers of carved ivory and the dice were sometimes of crystal inlaid with gold.

Besides anklebones, the Greeks and Romans also played with tesserae or cubical six-sided dice. In some games, they used both varieties.

An Indian Origin?

Modern dice probably first appeared in the Orient. The Korean dice used in the Buddhist game of Promotion contain both a magical formula and directions for the next move. The game sheet with which Promotion was played has directions in Sanskrit, which implies the game came originally from India.

The first written records of dice are contained in the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit epic. In Europe during the Middle Ages, both dicing schools and guilds existed. A twelfth century English text by Ordericus Vitalis says that “clergymen and bishops are fond of dice-playing.”