A Brief History of Popular Casino Games

There’s something utterly glamorous about classic casino games, but just where did games like poker, blackjack and roulette come from? We’re taking a look back through the pages of history to uncover the origins of the most famous casino games in the world.

Long before online casinos were conceived, there’s evidence that humans have enjoyed betting since pre-recorded history, with everyone from the Mayans to the Ancient Chinese enjoying versions of dice and card games that wouldn’t be all that unfamiliar to the modern player.

Whether you’re a regular gambling enthusiast or you’ve never approached a slot machine in your life, you’ll definitely be familiar with all the classic games on this list, and the history behind each of them is intriguing…

Roulette

Arguably the most iconic game in the history of casinos, the roulette wheel has one of the most interesting origin narratives behind it of all the games on this list: the narrative goes that an inventor called Blaise Pascal attempted to build a perpetual motion machine – a wheel that, once set spinning, would never lose its momentum. The invention failed (a perpetual motion machine is a physical impossibility) but the roulette wheel was inadvertently invented.

‘Roulette’ is simply French for ‘little wheel’, and it became a standard in first European and then American casinos throughout the late-19th and into the 20th Century. Fun fact: the numbers on a standard European roulette wheel add up to 666, the ‘devil’s number’ – a significant phenomenon for those more superstitious gamblers out there.

Poker

The earliest playing cards are said to date back to 9th Century China, but poker in its recognisable form didn’t appear until the 19th Century, when it was first recorded as being played in the United States. This is despite the evidence that the game name came from the French word ‘poque’, which loosely translates as ‘bluff’, suggesting that the game’s birthplace was in fact France.

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Betting card games existed long before poker ever came along, but none have gripped the imagination of gamblers and culture in general quite like poker. The earlier version of the game involved just 20 cards, before the standard 52-card pack became the norm in the mid-1800s.

Throughout the 20th Century, poker soared in popularity and became a mainstay in casinos all around the world, as illustrated by the establishment of international poker tournaments during the 70s and 80s.

Today, online poker is a huge industry with millions of regular players, and it continues to be one of the most iconic casino games in the world.

Blackjack

Variously known as 21 and Pontoon, Blackjack is another mainstay in both online and offline casinos around the world, but just where did the game originate?

The earliest mention of a card game resembling Blackjack can be found in a book about gambling by Miguel de Cervantes, where he describes a game called ‘Vingt-et-un’ (Twenty-one) where face cards were worth 10 and Aces worth either 11 or 1.

Few mentions of the game appear for another 100 years or so, when Blackjack rose in popularity in 18th Century France, and by the mid-20th Century it had caught on in casinos everywhere.

Slot Games

The original slot machine is a far cry from the slick online video slots online players are accustomed to. Although no one inventor is credited with its creation, it is generally agreed that the first slot machine came about just before the turn of the century, in 1895.

In 1895, a mechanically-operated box with five spinning drums that displayed playing cards at random was introduced in the US. Originally called The Liberty Wheel, this coin-operated machine would yield wins depending on the value of the hand displayed.

Eventually, this evolved into the more recognisable fruit machine incarnation in 1963, with a game called ‘Money Honey’. A decade later, and 1970s technology gave us video slot machines, eliminating the need for physical reels displaying symbols, and which in turn evolved into online video games.

Every casino game has a history, and an interesting one at that, so next time you want to enjoy sports betting or even enjoying an evening at a land-based casino, you’ll know a little about the origins of the game you’re playing, and enjoy it all the more!