Wednesday, November 2, 2011
In doing research for my latest novel, I ran across some interesting information about the history of gambling, a sport that has endured through the centuries.
Ancient man played games of chance, using the knucklebones of sheep as a primitive form of dice. Later, archaeologists uncovered a pair of ivory dice in Egypt, dating before 1500 B.C., proving that the dice of today are much like those used for centuries.
Betting on athletic games at the Roman coliseum drew wagers from rich and poor alike, and later, during the Middle Ages, gambling in all its forms took place in private homes and in city streets.
When first used, cards were a rich man’s game, as each card was stamped from a woodcut. Later, with the invention of the printing press, a deck of cards became readily accessible in every tavern in Europe.
When the English came to the New World, they brought the culture of gambling with them, but the Puritan-led Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed possession of cards and dice (along with dancing and singing). Later, the rules were relaxed, as long as the game was an innocent one and no money exchanged hands.
In Venice, men and ladies both went to the ridotto, a salon for gambling and other pastimes. Ridotti became very popular in Europe, even serving as forums for the arts. Verdi celebrated the opening of his opera, Rigoletto, in the Ridotto San Moise. In the 1800s, the Doge of Venice closed the ridotti, and they were reopened as state run casinos.
For further reading, a very good book by David Schwartz, titled Roll the Bones, covers every aspect of the history of gambling in Europe and the United States.