Gambling, like anything in life, does not exist in a bubble. While originally it may have been an unregulated free for all, times have changed, and now pretty much every place on earth has gambling laws. These laws, of course, vary from place to place. And, in most countries, differ between formats – so that there will be different laws for things like lotteries, casinos, and even bingo halls.
To begin to understand world events that influenced changes in gambling laws, it’s probably best to begin with a little bit of history.
A short history on the origins of gambling
While gambling has been around in some form since the dawn of time – or at least since humanity came to populate this great planet – it is virtually impossible to put an exact date on it. After all, how could we possibly truly and definitively know when and where people began playing games of chance or placing wagers on their outcome?
The earliest “proof” that’s been found in the form of physical evidence is from Ancient China circa 2300 BC. There, a tile game was uncovered, with a presumed semblance to some sort of lottery game. That being said, dice were found in an Egyptian tomb that dates back even further to 3000 BC, so in all likelihood, gambling was going on there before. And the mighty philosophical Greeks certainly weren’t above gambling themselves, with the poet Sophocles even going so far as to brag that dice were invented by one of the mythological Greek heroes – though as we just mentioned, the facts date them earlier and in Egypt. Whichever came first isn’t really all that important, beyond perhaps bragging rights. What’s truly interesting to note is that gambling was already a popular activity in the ancient world, making an early mark in history.
Other games of chance quickly join the gambling space
The gambling games we now know started trickling in the century after century. After dice games came cards somewhere in the ninth century in China. Next came baccarat which is said to have its roots in Italy, though it gained more widespread popularity when it made its way to France in the 1400s. Blackjack came next – though its origins to are debated between France and Spain. Then the first gambling house resembling what we know as a casino popped up in the 1600s in Italy. 1796 brought us the roulette wheel, 1829 poker, and 1891 our favourite, the one-armed bandit pokies machine.
The exact dates for all these are a bit hard to prove, but they give a really good indication of at least the near time and region where some of the greatest gambling games began. As the world got smaller, each game spread quicker. So instead of thousands of years, then hundreds of years, a game like pokies made its way from the US to Australia in under ten years.
Why are there gambling laws anyhow?
Let’s backtrack for a minute. To understand how world events have influenced changes in gambling laws it’s actually important to understand why there are gambling laws in the first place.
As gambling spread and populations grew, like many other aspects of life, the government sought to control gambling. And if you think about it, you can understand why – for a number of reasons.
One of the reasons is what you might call the moral side. Some people and religions look at gambling as a societal evil. For example, according to Islam gambling is a forbidden activity, period. Over time, many Christians have also believed that gambling is a sin. And since, even in a secular state, religious attitudes have a strong influence, it makes sense that this outlook in terms of regulating or prohibiting gambling is fairly widespread.
Beyond seeing it as a sin, many states have seen gambling as a danger. For starters, it can be addictive. And addiction can cause many societal ills. Plus, many believe that chronic gambling is a particular problem amongst the impoverished, or at least weaker tiers of the population, i.e. the types of people who are seen as most needing of external protection. Also, gambling and other “vices” can often be found hand-in-hand so that unregulated gambling houses may have been associated with drinking, prostitution, brawling, stealing, and worse. As such, for all of these reasons, a big part of the point of gambling laws is to keep people and places safer.
Another reason why we have gambling laws is, let’s be honest so that governments can get in on the action. And this is four-fold. Many governments can make money by running organisations such as a state lottery. A second way that governments can earn money from gambling is by issuing gambling licenses at a one-time fee and often charging an annual fee thereafter. The third way that they can earn money from gambling is the biggest way, and that is in the form of collecting taxes. Think about the latter like this, if online gambling was all done off the books, how would the government go about collecting all those tax dollars? Casinos wouldn’t have to file any paperwork, and there’d be no way to even set a rate. And finally, the fourth reason why governments legalise gambling is that the gambling industry provides local populations with a lot of jobs. Now let’s get on to some more specifics.
The rise of the land-based casino
As mentioned, the first known casino made its debut in Italy somewhere in the 17th century – with many citing the Ridotto of Venice, which set up house in 1638 as the absolute first. While the casino didn’t have legal authority, what it did do was what laws in effect do, and that provides a controlled environment for gambling games, as opposed to the chaos that was prevalent before.
The appeal of such a setup makes sense since people staking real money are apt to want a little security and reliability in their surroundings. Many other cities across Europe, as such followed suit by the 19th century, though less so in the US where gambling houses were still more informal in their style.
Each country in turn needed to adapt any existing laws for such institutions, making the rise of the land-based casino an influential factor in regulation.
The online gambling effect
Online gambling completely changed the gambling frontier when Microgaming altered history with the debut of the first online pokies machine in 1994. Within five years it is said to have become a $5 billion industry, which makes sense since anyone with an internet connection could now access casinos, as well as sports betting and poker games.
This not only changed how we gambled – that is private, from any location, and around the clock – but it introduced new considerations to the countries of the world. The internet, after all, is a harder space to regulate. And it’s harder to track perpetrators down, should someone overstep the law.
Some countries chose to ban online gambling by blocking online casino websites. Others didn’t enforce a block but did block financial transactions. While still others banned casino operators on their shores, like here in Australia, while letting players go about their affairs. Others, however, particularly many countries in Europe, chose to take a more realistic approach and start regulating the online gaming space. For the most part, however, you might say, online gaming legislation is a work in progress as international attitudes and laws around it continues to evolve.
Gambling laws begin in Rome
Again, backtracking a bit, as we delve more deeply into specifics, it is certainly possible just as there was gambling since the dawn of time, there were also gambling laws. However, the first time we have evidence of gambling being regulated was the ban on all gambling imposed in Rome. The punishment here for those who were caught was 4X their stakes. In response, clever citizens invented what is recognised as the first known gambling chips, which Roman citizens used in lieu of cash (much like in the casinos of the world today). These chips worked as a technical workaround if caught by the authorities – cause, hey, it’s not cash after all!
Events that have influenced US gambling laws
Like many countries in the world, the US has had what might best be described as an up and down relationship when it comes to gambling. The Puritans who first settled the land, outright banned gambling in line with their religious beliefs, whereas the English settlers had a more laissez-faire
approach, tolerating and even embracing it. In 1910, however, as “morality” tightened up across the US, a national prohibition was placed on gambling. This is an excellent example of how events like a cultural shift can change gambling laws. That being said, with gambling already so embedded in so many people’s lives, the law was never fully enforced. As such, much like alcohol that was also banned at the time continued to be consumed, interested parties continued to indulge in their “vice”, just more discreetly than before.
Not long after in the 1930s, however, gambling was once again legalised, as a response to alleviating the poverty associated with the Great Depression. In turn, Las Vegas as we know it was born. As such, you can see how a world event like the Depression can have a direct influence on gambling laws.
Today, gambling under the US federal law is legal, though each state can either allow or prohibit it within its borders, at its discretion. So for example, some states like Louisiana and Nevada allow for casinos state-wide, while others like Utah and Hawaii have enforced a complete ban.
The example of Australian gambling laws
In the past, the Commonwealth has given the states and territories the right to legislate gambling as they see fit. And see fit they did, with gambling in its many forms legalised throughout the country. However, in recent years, due to a growing gambling problem, particularly in terms of pokies addiction, as well as the spread of online gambling, the Commonwealth has gotten more involved in gambling legislation.
Other countries of the world
The world events that influenced local gambling laws in the US and Australia were more or less mirrored in other countries of the world. Each country has, over time, acted according to its own predominant religion, local mores, financial, and other factors.
A country like Monaco, for example, used the legalisation of casinos as a way to boost the local economy. Much like the US changed its stance towards casinos in the face of the Great Depression, Monaco made that move in the mid-19th century when the state was nearing bankruptcy. The famous casinos of Monte Carlo, as such grew out of the need for the ruling family of Monaco to fill the state coffers and save it from annexation.
Communist countries, as expected, do not allow citizens to gamble. Hence you might say communism is another force that has influenced gambling laws. Similarly, as mentioned before, Islamic law forbid gambling, so the rise of Islam in much of Africa and the Middle East can be seen as an influencing force as well.
That being said, as attitudes shift and change over time, so do the laws around gambling. As such, they often become more relaxed in tune with our overall temperament as a society in terms of accepting peoples’ right to choose what they do with their money and free time. On the flip side, as studies continue to show the effects of problem gambling, more governments also step in to legislate ways to temper this downside. In other words, gambling laws, like world events themselves continue to be a dynamic lot.
In a nutshell, you might say that the invention of each type of gaming affected changes in the gambling laws. Or you might say the mediums – such as the introduction of casinos or online gambling have helped influence these changes. While a gut reaction may be to say, what a bummer to have the government involved, the truth is that gambling laws help protect us and keep a good, clean gambling environment alive. So long as the government has a finger on the pulse of how people are acting, and tax in a fair way, gambling legislation can actually be seen as our friend. And as such, something that we should be thankful for at the end of the day.