History of Gambling

Throughout the world, gambling has been around in various forms for a very long time. In the U.S., gambling was recognized as early as 1776 as a means in which to make money for a developing nation through lotteries. Since then, some types of legal gambling have been allowed nation-wide and there is a mixed tolerance to illegal gambling. Everyone knows that gambling is legal in the casinos in Nevada and Atlantic City. There are lotteries in other states as well.

Gambling in the late 1800's

A game of Faro in a Tombstone in Arizona Territorry saloon.

Sources state that by 1992, revenues from gambling were estimated at $329.9 billion. As of that year, 40 states offered lotteries, 4 states allowed casinos, 6 states had casinos operating on riverboats, and 28 states had agreements with Indian tribal nations to allow gambling on their reserves.

The gambling industry’s own records note that out of 1995 revenues of $485 billion, there were profits of approximately $40 billion.

It is reported that gambling reflected the spirit of the developing U.S. nation. Both shared a spirit of adventure and the desire to take risks. However, before the early 1800’s, casino gaming lacked the numbers to make it work. At that time, casinos were found in taverns and roadhouses. But after more people started arriving in the young country, posh casinos were constructed and heavily patronized.

Gambling became a big hit in the river towns of the Mississippi Valley in the early 1800’s. In the south, the attitude towards gambling tended to be a very liberal one. New Orleans became the gambling capital of the region. It was successful there because many travelers, merchants and farmers frequented the riverboats as a means of transportation. Professional gamblers, also known as “sharps or sharpers” bloomed in this locale and knew how to “work” the travelers who came in search of new opportunities with their pockets laden with cash. Suffice it to say that the visitors didn’t always get a fair deal.

The history of gamblingThen the settlers became annoyed with the tactics of the “sharps” and blamed them for a declining economy. They took serious action and even lynched a few of them. The rest took off to the riverboats where they experienced the greatest success and interested clients between 1840 – 1860. Some of the professional gamblers also relocated to California.

Legal gambling did falter at various times during the 1800’s due to opposition from religious groups, the emergence of railroads, which replaced riverboats as an efficient means of transportation, and the outbreak of the Civil War.

A resurgence of gaming popularity occurred with the development of the Far West. In California, gambling reached a high during the gold rush, especially between 1849 to 1855. As miners searched the region for strikes, gambling prospered wherever they went.

Once again, gambling fell out of favor and laws against it were enacted in California. Professional gamblers continued to be blamed for economic decline and corruption.

During the prohibition, gambling was strictly illegal. It was outlawed across the country by 1910. However, it did continue to thrive underground.

After the Civil War, lotteries were revived to help rebuild damaged areas of the nation. Again, public pressure eventually influenced 35 state legislatures to ban the operation of lotteries. Horseracing was also laced with scandal due to bookmakers owning the racehorses, thereby influencing the outcome of the race.

The roulette wheelWhen the Great Depression struck, gambling was permitted because the money was so badly needed all across the country in order to enhance the economy. Horseracing made a big comeback which was supported by stricter laws and computerized systems. Not only horseracing became popular, but card games such as Black Jack and Poker started thriving as well. At the same time, there was tremendous pressure and action to eradicate illegal gambling, especially in eastern states. This in turn sent mobsters, such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel to the West Coast. Because of legal pressure, he was forced to move from California to Las Vegas.

In 1931, Nevada legalized most forms of gambling in an attempt to lure tourists who were expected to visit what is now the Hoover Dam. There had been a thriving illegal gambling industry there. After World War II, it really picked up. However, it was supported by organized crime that had the experience in this area.

Because there was so much underworld activity involved in gaming, there was a Senate Committee investigation in the 1950’s, which purged the industry of corrupt influences.

After a century of inactivity, lotteries were popularized and legalized in an effort to prevent tax increases. In 1964, New Hampshire was the first state to sponsor a lottery.

Atlantic City officially became New Jersey’s legalized gaming area in 1978. It was permitted in order to focus on drawing tourists again to what was once a resort city. It is now a very big draw in the region.

Gambling is a recreational activity with a long history. According to an ABC news report on Jan. 28, the River City Group, which conducts research for the gambling industry, estimates that revenues wagered online will reach $4 billion by the year 2016.