10 Fun Facts about Gambling

07th June4 min read

Did you know that gambling has been around since 2300 BC China? Back then, people threw dice and sticks, believing that the outcomes were controlled by the gods. They even used dice to choose their rulers and start wars! The story of card games and casinos only gets more colourful. Here are 10 more fun facts about gambling.

1. The people of Cyprus gamble an average €2.5 billion a year.

With only about 400,000 residents, that’s a €3,125 per person! The country has 17 casinos in operation. Ironically, gambling in Cyprus is illegal. In comparison, the average British household spends an average of £166 a year.

At least the gamblers of Cyprus do not lose it all. There’s this statistic by The Economist that calculates the biggest losers. As you can see from the chart below, the biggest losing gamblers are in Australia, losing more than $1,200 a year! Chairman of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, Tim Costello explains it like this: “Gambling is just like eucalyptus oil – it's natural.”

UK residents lose dangerous amounts of money too...

2. Roulette is often referred to as “The Devil’s Game”.

The fact that the sum of the numbers on the roulette wheel (1 to 36) adds up to “666” which is the “Devil’s Number” might contribute to this nickname of the game. Legend has it that Francois Blanc, a French entrepreneur and casino operator, made a bargain with the devil to obtain the secrets to roulette. In reality, there is a complicated mathematical probability to making a winning bet in roulette. But the "666" story sounds much more intriguing.

Not sure about 666, but this is the wheel's real devil.

3. In 100AD, the King of Norway lost the entire district of Hisingen to the King of Sweden!

The King of Sweden had rolled two sixes back-to-back, making it one of the earliest recorded dice bets in history. Today, the island of Hisingen is Swedish territory.

I bet the King of Sweden felt a little like this

4. The sandwich was named after John Montagu.

John was the 4th Earl of Sandwich and an avid lover of card games. This might not sound like a gambling fact on the face of it, but it is! Rumour has it the aristocrat was so reluctant to leave a game of cards that he ordered his servants to serve him meat between 2 slices of bread. This way he could eat with one hand and play cards with the other.

The multi-tasking Earl of Sandwich

5. The first casinos were run by mafias!

In the 1600s, Venetian authorities attempted to ban the games of chance. This started driving gambling underground and several privately-owned and illegal gambling clubs (called Ridotto) were set up to cater to members of Venice’s nobility. The government soon realised that it could not ban gambling and set up its own Il Ridotto  in the San Moise Palace – the world’s first legal gambling house.

Here's what it was like in a Ridotto. Frankly, it doesn't look very gangster-y.

In 1930s America, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a persecuted New York crime boss, moved to the West Coast and orchestrated the rise of gambling in Las Vegas. His casino was called the Flamingo and it was mostly financed by the mob. The casino industry in the UK was less turbulent; the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 meant that commercial bingo halls and casinos could be set up legally.

And this was Bugsy's casino back in the 50s.

6. The word poker is derived from the German word “pochen”, which means to brag or bluff.

Pinocchio isn't very good at Poker...

7. Keeping your money with an online poker site or casino might be a safer bet than banks.

In accordance with their casino licenses, these sites do not have access to your money. Unlike banks which are free to use your money as they wish, licensed poker sites have no access to your money in any way. Of course, there is a high likelihood that you'd hand over the money willingly by losing.

What usually happens at casinos

8. The first slot machine was invented in 1899.

The world's first slot machine

The first slot machine was called the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell had three reels and six symbols – diamond, heart, spade, star, horseshoe and a Liberty Bell. If three bells were lined up in a row, the player would be awarded the top payout of 50 cents! Only four of these original Liberty Bell machines are around today.

9. In many cultures, dice were cast to dispense justice.

So, these grubby cubes could convey the message of the gods?

They considered the results of the dice throws as the word of the gods. In Sweden, this happened well in to the early 19th century. Interestingly, the Greek word “dike” for justice, comes from a word that means “to throw”, in the sense of throwing dice.

Archaeologist found ancient gaming pieces in the shape of split-sticks and split-cane with ridges in them. It is said they were used as dice and in guessing games. These pieces were marked from 3 to 8.

10. The Kings on a deck of cards represent the four greatest kings of the world.

Did you think the Kings on a deck of cards were just random illustrations? They actually represent ♠ David, King of Israel, ♥ Charlemagne, King of France, ♣ Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia and ♦ Augustus Caesar, Emperor of Rome.

The Queens on the deck of cards also had names- ♠ Pallas, another name for the Greek Goddess Athena, ♥ Judith, a biblical figure, ♣ Argine, an anagram of Regina (which is Latin for Queen) and ♦ Rachel, a biblical figure.

Next time you’re showing off your card dealing prowess, you could show off your gambling knowledge too! :)

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