People have gambled since before the dawn of modern civilization. In fact, the oldest known gambling device was the astragal. You’re probably more familiar with its more well-known name, “knuckle bones.” Archaeologists have found astragals dating back to 3000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia.
The Egyptians played at least five games we know of that may have been used for gambling:
- Aseb, aka Twenty Squares
- Mehen, aka Coiled One (played on a circular board)
- Tjau, aka The Game of Thieves
- Seega or Senet (precursor of Draughts, an ancestor of Checkers and Go)
They most likely had many more games and wagered on anything that came to mind. The Ancient Egyptians may have even organized the first sports betting pools. We’ll never know for sure, as they borrowed some games and sports from other civilizations. But one thing they didn’t have were real money casino sites (atleast not yet).
What remained consistent throughout the ages until very recently was that anyone who wanted to gamble had to be there in person or send an agent.
Another that only changed in recent history was the design and manufacturing process for gambling games.
Regulated, standardized game design and play made gambling much more fair than it had been. I would even say it became more predictable and respectable. But everyone still had to sit or stand around the table or sit in front of the slot machine.
Gambling was a very personal, social experience for thousands of years.
Computers Began to Change Everything
At the very beginning of modern electronic computing in the 1940s, programmers began coding simulators for blackjack and slot machines. It was too strong a temptation.
Eventually, game manufacturers brought out the first video slot machines in the 1970s. When the personal computer revolution began in the late 1970s, it didn’t take long for software companies to start selling slot machine and card game simulators. Although they were only played for fun by most people, they heralded the dawn of a new era in games of risk.
Computerworld mentioned a dial-up bulletin board gaming system in 1983, but it wasn’t associated with gambling.
In the 1960s, time-sharing computers were built. These were mainframes allowed remote users to connect via teletype terminals. Universities, governments, and large corporations leased time on the mainframes and some early programming books explained how to create simple gambling games for time-shared systems, but they were all text-based.
In my opinion, illegal lotteries were probably the first games to fully transition online. Players likely dialed into secret bulletin boards to check their results. In the 1990s, legal lottery game results began appearing on dial-up bulletin boards and the internet.
As soon as enough people were an;e connect to the web in the mid- to late 1990s, online slot machine games and card gaming rooms appeared. They were unregulated, but curious players found them one by one.
The Internet Proved Online Gaming Was Viable
Although early adopters loved their dial-up bulletin board systems, such games weren’t really profitable enough to attract corporate investment. Too few people could connect to the BBS computers at any one time, they were slow, the interfaces were text-based, and the games were not in real-time.
The internet made it possible for game designers to experiment. First, they created chatroom based card games and simple slot machine simulators. They eventually integrated a fuller graphic interface for gamers.
While the land-based casinos bought more exciting video-based games and user account software, the online casinos were investing in similar technologies.
In land-based casinos, players could not see records of their activity. Online casinos gradually gave players the ability to do this. Even online card gaming can generate history reports.
By the mid-2000s, millions of people were gambling online.
The first big market to be targeted in the United States was poker. In 2011, the FBI shut down popular poker rooms like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker. Their operators were charged with bank fraud.
Although the online poker history took a major dive in the United States, it still continued to flourish everywhere else.
Another Revolution Helped Modernize Land-Based Casinos
Although many corporations were skeptical of ecommerce in the 1990s, by 2005, the classic business brochure website was being replaced by interactive business sites.
Any company that could benefit from keeping customers informed of news and deals began soliciting email addresses. Land-based casinos quickly set up sites in the 1990s, but they were mostly informational.
In 1996, the Caesars site’s most interactive feature was a calendar. Visitors were expected to call an 800 number if they wanted to ask questions or make reservations. Within a few years, players could begin creating accounts.
Online reservations, interactive chats, players reward system reports, personal calendars and itineraries, and other interactive features have been added throughout the years. Customers could even start purchasing merchandise over the internet.
The land-based gambling industry was no longer merely about gambling in a casino. It evolved into a brand-merchandising mega-machine.
The Internet Democratizes Gambling
Thanks to advances in online gaming technology, millions of people who probably would not have gambled were now able to play online and offline whenever they pleased.
While the land-based casino industry was booming around the globe, online casinos also proliferated.
Players can choose among many competitive services. If a player doesn’t like one casino, they can try another. In states like Oklahoma, there are more Native American casinos within a few hours’ worth of driving than there are casinos in Las Vegas, Reno, or Atlantic City.
Because all of these land-based casinos have websites, it’s easy for people to find them. Travel websites, casino review sites, and forums all publish lists of land-based casinos, complete with addresses, phone numbers, booking information, and more.
The days when any one casino was so popular it could do almost whatever it wanted are over. Now, they have to compete against each other both online and offline.
Even American players, who are barred from making banking transactions with overseas online casinos, still have many options. US players win online slots jackpots every single year.
The Game Design Industry Expanded Thanks to the Internet
The demand for software developers exploded throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Many of these developers were tasked with creating animated, interactive software. These interactive applications are now found across many industries.
Thanks to the ubiquitous online experience, people can quickly learn how to play new games. Demand and competition for new games led to a boom in gaming software companies. The gaming companies created many jobs.
The land-based gaming industry experienced similar growth, especially in slot machine designs. Every year, new concepts are brought to market. Game developers adopt ideas from each other as they improve their products.
The internet makes it simple for people to discover and learn about new gaming concepts. Programmers can take online classes, and companies can recruit new technicians and developers online.
Dig deeply enough, and you’ll find many other innovations behind each of the ideas I’ve outlined. The internet contributes to the growth of business and the simplification of consumers’ lifestyles.
We take so many things for granted that we don’t realize how effortless the internet makes our daily lives. Over 1 billion people now own smart phones, and most of these users download games and apps.
If owning a desktop computer and modem allowed us to bring gambling games into our homes, mobile phones allow us to take them with us wherever we go.
The old dial-up networks proved these things were possible. But without improved networking technologies, only a small percentage of people who gamble today would be doing so.
The internet didn’t carry us out of the dark ages of gambling, it illuminated our gaming life in a way that even 20th century gamers could never have imagined.