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Gambling Legalization – past to present


"I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice." Albert Einstein

Dice was the first world known form of gambling, which is as old as tobacco, prostitution and alcohol. Or actually, way older than alcohol…… old as history itself.

Dice-like objects made from the ankle bone of animals 40,000 years ago have been found. It was hugely popular. So popular that at the height of the Roman Empire, lawmakers decreed that all children were to be taught to gamble and throw dice. The need to wager for a potential winning outcomes, the thrill, the Adrenalin rush, it is part of human nature. Everyone, from the upper elite to the peasants and slaves enjoyed gambling. In the ancient age, throwing dice was not just considered to be a game of luck and chance, but was believed to be controlled by the gods. Similar to the Chinese today, who fill up the casinos in Macao believing that gambling is another word for investment …. The Romans worshipped among many gods, the goddess Fortuna -  the ruler of fortune and chance. She even became a symbol of wealth and prosperity.  The casting of dice was more than just a game. It was a way of choosing rulers, making predictions and betting on circumstances. When Gaius Lulius Caesar crossed the river Rubicon, he was quoted saying: "alea iacta set", the die is cast and as history has proven, there was indeed no turning back. In the 14th Century, When Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn, and her brother were tried for treason and incest; the odds were 10-to-1 on acquittal. Add comparison to celeb life wagered on today.

Italians and Greeks gambled constantly throughout history despite deteriorating financials and high rates of unemployment….. (Déjà vu anyone?) Many gamblers, in ancient times as today, suffered heavy losses. Many emperors in Rome and Greece were also recorded as having gambling problems. Emperor Augustus was a high roller and so was Emperor Nero.   Emperor Commodus was famous for his bad gambling habits, only he went bankrupt and plundered the state treasury to save himself while turning his palace into a casino to make back the money he lost (an original idea, no doubt but obviously not very successful in recovering any of the sustained losses….) so eventually steps needed to be taken in order to save the heavy gamblers from themselves and the states from their lunatic governors….

Those steps came in the form of gambling restrictions and limitations from very early on.  Back in 529 Emperor of Eastern Roman Empire and head of Orthodox Church Justinian issued the Corpus Juris Civilis of civil and canon law, in which he bans gambling in public and private houses. That was the first time gambling was outlawed. But that was only the beginning…… During medieval times, Responsible Gaming restrictions started to appear. In 1190 Kings Richard of England and Philip II of France issued an edict forbidding gambling for money by those below rank of knight during the Third Crusade, allowing only the kings to gamble, while others were limited to a loss of 20 shillings per day. The goal wasn’t so much to care and protect the civilians but rather to ensure their effectiveness in battle….Various limitations and other restrictions were enacted in many states in Europe.

In 1430 Savoy, Italy, a new version of anti-gambling law was issued: Playing any game for money is forbidden, except women may play cards for "pins", small change. Hereby inventing social gaming. Here again, many rulers enacted similar laws in years to follow, throughout Europe.

Some of the banning decrees in earlier times had nothing to do with gambling addictions and responsible gaming. Back then the rules were to serve the patriarch: whether the goal was to make the population more obedient or efficient or to avoid inconvenience to the royal family….During the 14th century, in spite of being an inveterate gambler himself, King Henry VIII outlawed gambling when he discovered that his soldiers spent more time gambling than improving their battle skills.

Pope Gregory XIV issued an instruction threatening excommunication for anyone found gambling on the identity of his successor. Here, as well, the purpose was far from the civilians' well being….

Limited and restricted as it may, gambling continued evolving and spreading. Lotteries arrived. In 1444 the city of L'Éduce (France) held the first lottery to raise funds to repair the city's walls and fortifications. The earliest recorded lottery in which participants paid for a chance to win. Grand prize was 300 florins…..

While gambling was further restricted, semi-institutional and governmental lotteries begin to flourish. In 1566 the first state lottery was held in England. 400,000 tickets were sold. Purpose of the lottery is to fund repairs for several harbors. In 1520 King Francis I of France signed a bill legalizing lotteries in various cities in France and Belgium legalized lotteries 2 years later. Very soon after, funds were used to subsidize wars: 1694 British Parliament authorizes a state lottery to raise funds for war against France. Top prize is 1000 pounds sterling in annual payments. In the US, Washington himself bought the first ticket for a federal lottery in 1793 sponsored to finance improvements in the District of Columbia. By the 1830's, more than 420 lotteries nationwide offered prizes. Lotteries remained a popular fund-raising method throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sadly, the private sector was not able to enjoy it for too long…. In 1561 Bruges, France prohibited all private lotteries; other European states followed its steps.

Much like today, the gambling industry faced numerous ups and downs through history. Contradicting laws were constantly enacted: in 1660 With the Restoration of King Charles II to the English throne, gambling was allowed to all. But, only 4 years later, the British Parliament passed the "An Act against Deceitful, Dishonest, and Excessive Gaming" to restrict gambling as a profession.

 In the US, Massachusetts was the first state to ban gambling. Additional states proceeded in the same path, creating the way for Riverboats and frontier towns in the New World to emerge, providing new gambling venues, sometimes legal, sometimes not. After the Civil War, evangelical reform wiped out most of the lotteries. Prohibition sent drinking and gambling underground. But it didn't stay down for long. During the 30th's, restrictions eased up and horse racing was legalized and gained popularity. In 1931, Nevada legalized gambling again, and casinos literally sprouted from the sands of the desert. Atlantic City was next in 1978 and since then, other states have legalized various forms of gambling, across the US and Europe.

With the introduction of digital technology, gambling accessibility grew substantially, coupled with lesser supervision and control in the early days.  Additional issues emerged and with them the understanding of the urgent need for regulation. But digital technology did not bring about the full legalization expected and if anything, it only seems to push it further away. The industry internal segmentation continued with opposing parties, complicating and driving the industry to even bigger chaos, much like the limbo Germany has been suffering for over 3 years …..And so the battle towards full legalization continues….

Therefore, when reviewing the gambling's history, one thing is clear: a ban on gambling cannot be sustained. Tried and tried again to no avail. People will find the way to gamble and means to do so. The only thing that has actually changed is the means to gamble. From dice and straws played by the Romans and Greeks to online mobile and tablet apps played everywhere, 24/7, today, history and gambling laws only repeat themselves….






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