Gambling, in one form or another, has been around for centuries. It's almost as old as civilisation itself – the allure of big wagers has drawn many people over the ages. Casinos didn't really exist as we know them today for a long time, although there were undoubtedly similar gambling establishments in almost all societies and civilisations.
The oldest known casino in the world is the Venetian Ridotto, which was opened in 1638. But which games were people playing back then? Not video slots, that's for sure. Here are some of the games that were likely to have been played by punters all those centuries ago:
While roulette as we know it originated in France in the 18th century, it was actually invented (in a sense) in the 17th by physicist Blaise Pascal. Pascal was trying to create a perpetual motion machine – a device that would continually spin via its own energy. While his machine didn't work, it did lay the foundations for the roulette wheel.
In the 1720s, an early version of the game, with the undeniably inventive name of 'roly poly' appeared in Britain and banned by 1739. Towards the end of the 18th century, the roulette wheel we're now all familiar with took shape and started to appear in establishments across France. The numbers on the wheel were actually inspired and taken from the French game of Biribi, which was a form of low stakes lotto.
The very first reference to blackjack, or rather the early form of it called 21, is found in a book by the legendary Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. One of the short stories in his Novelas Ejemplares follows two card cheats that are experts at rigging games of 21 to their advantage. This particular story was written in the very early 1600s, which means blackjack had probably been enjoyed by Spanish players for quite some time before that.
Once it arrived in America, casinos started to make a few changes to the game to keep players interested. Bonuses were found to be a great way to do just that (some things never change) and one of the most popular bonus hands was the combination of a black jack and ace of spades. Despite the fact this bonus hand didn’t stay around all that long, the name of it did and that's what the game came to be known as.
Almost all Las Vegas casinos (and plenty of others) have keno on offer these days, but it has quite an interesting and unexpected origin. Again, very early versions of keno weren't exactly the same – it's been refined and changed over time – but the basics were definitely there.
The game is said to have been invented around the same time as the construction of the Great Wall of China, conceived as a way to raise enough money to build the wall in the first place. While this could well be more legend than fact, there's no denying that the game first arrived in the Western world in the 19th century via Chinese immigrants.
While there are many games involving dice, especially craps, we can't really talk about the oldest casino games without mentioning the humble cubes themselves. It was claimed by the Greek poet Sophocles that dice were invented in Greece. If that's true, the game of dice (and arguably all the variants that have been spawned from it that we see in casinos today) dates back to 400BC.
There's more convincing evidence that dice were certainly around in 6000BC, thanks to the work of archaeologists around the world. In Egypt, dice estimated to be from 2000BC were found. Craps itself, very common in casinos these days, is a variation of hazard, a game that originated in London. Once it reached New Orleans, it evolved over time into the craps we know today.
While it's hard to say what the oldest form of gambling might be, roulette is certainly likely to be the oldest casino game known (barring any Chinese legends of course, in which case keno would scoop the title). It's strange to think that when you play a round of roulette or a hand of blackjack, people have been enjoying the very same thrills and spills for hundreds of years and are certain to continue doing so well into the future.