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Gambling has been a part of human civilization since the beginning of recorded time. The Book of Job tells of a wager between God and a sinister figure, generally assumed to be the Devil. The Book of Numbers says that Moses was awarded the "land near the Jordan River" after winning a lottery.

The Chinese Lottery, later known as Keno, was started as early as 200 B.C. by the imperial government. The money this lottery raised was used to build the Great Wall of China. Gambling can be said to have built one of the great engineering feats of the world.

From ancient China and ancient Egypt to Renaissance Europe, gambling was a staple of most cultures.

A multitude of card games were played throughout Europe throughout the late middle ages and into modern times. Cards came a little later in history than dice games, arriving in Europe by way of China only as late as the 1360's. This is because dice and painted tiles were easier to produce and sturdier than cards.

The game which would become bingo started during the Late Renaissance of Italy, sometime around 1530. Like many other forms of gambling at the time, it was very similar to what we would call a lottery.

The Casino

Gambling houses had existed in many parts of the world for centuries, but casinos became the favored gambling establishment in the nineteenth century.

The Italian word "casino" originally meant a room built onto an Italian palazzo as a entertainment room, where people might gather for games and performances. Casino became a generic term for a place where people gathered together for pleasure activities. Because casinos had the connotation of wealth and luxury, it became the standard name for the most luxurious gambling establishments.

Today, land-based casinos are often attached to luxury hotels. They also house other forms of entertainment, such as concerts and sporting events. This was an early distinction between your standard gambling den and the casino.

The first licensed Monte Carlo Casino was established in 1861. This helped spread make the term "casino" synonymous with gambling of all kinds.

Gambling in America

In America, gambling has had a more checkered history. Lotteries have been around since the time of the American Revolution, when several state-run lotteries were used to fund the war effort. Riverboat gambling was a major past time during the middle of the 19th century. In the Old West period, many saloons offered table games.

Yet the riverboats were an indication of Americans' ambivalence to gambling. Games took place on the river to escape local jurisdictions. As the railroads came into the Old West, reform-minded women and preachers arrived, wanting to bring "civilization" by stopping so-called vices like gambling and prostitution. By the turn of the century, most forms of gambling were illegal in America.

The Las Vegas Casino

This changed in Nevada in the 1930's. The era of alcohol Prohibition showed that Americans were likely to break federal laws they found unreasonable. The state of Nevada made gambling legal in 1931. A few casinos began to appear by the late thirties, but Bugsy Siegel is given credit for the image of the big time Vegas casino. He opened the Flamingo Hotel in 1946. The Las Vegas Strip formed when other casinos put in near the Flamingo.

By the 1950's, Las Vegas was a vacation and entertainment capitol. Professional gamblers began to congregate in Las Vegas during these years. Some of the most important of these pros came from Texas.

Texas Holdem became the favorite game of Texas gamblers like Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Benny Binion. When they moved to Las Vegas in the late fifties, they brought with them the Hold 'Em. It would become a fixture in the Las Vegas casinos, just as Vegas was becoming the casino capitol of the world.

In the eighties, corporate America came to Sin City. Real estate impresarios like Steve Wynn built bigger and fancier casinos. Wynn's Mirage casino, built in 1989, set the standard for all later Vegas casinos. Many of the legendary gambling establishments were phased out to make way for gaming palaces like the MGM Grand and the Bellagio. Older casinos like the Stardust, the Sands and the Dunes closed down.

Atlantic City and the Indian Casinos

In the 1970's, New Jersey passed laws which allowed casinos to come to Atlantic City. Donald Trump made himself nationally famous by building the Trump Taj Mahal and the Trump Plaza. Caesar's and Bally's built their own casinos in town. But other cities would have a hard time mimicking Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The Native American tribes wouldn't have many of those impediments.

Following a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988. Indian casinos appeared in dozens of U.S. states. Some of these would rival the grandeur of the Las Vegas Strip. Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut is the largest casino in the world.

Online Casinos

Around the same time the Indian tribes were getting into the gaming industry, the internet was revolutionizing the world. Once your average citizen had his own personal computer, gambling had a new medium. Gambling software was written so a person could play online casino games. Internet casinos proliferated in many nations, with jurisdictions like Antigua and Gibralter providing licensing for online casino operators.

The online casino is still in its infancy. Within a few years, connections will become so fast and convenient that one will be able to make wagers through the internet with one's cellphones. Betting will happen in real time and gamblers will be able to watch events over their cellphones on a pay-per-view basis. So the history of online gambling is largely yet to be written.


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