Gambling has been around in many forms for centuries. From local lotteries to card tournaments, greyhound races to online casino games, the urge to wager money has often defied both religious and governmental law.
As an American pastime, enjoyment in gambling began long before settlers even arrived on the continent.Native American Indians would participate in various forms of gambling which would find them betting with weapons and other supplies. A common game was called ‘Hubbub’ and saw bets placed upon the outcome of rolling 5 peach pits or bones.
With the first waves of settlers sailing over by the 1600s, American gambling in the recognizable form it takes today began to take hold. Though it was deemed to be illegal in the New England colonies, by the 1700s the Southern colonies had what was termed ‘Gentlemen’s gambling’.
Gentlemen’s gambling took form in members-only establishments and was typically a past-time of the elite and wealthy.
Lottery systems were also introduced, to help the original thirteen colonies raise wealth and finance projects. However, trouble began to brew with the issuing of the Currency Act by the Parliament of Great Britain. The act directly affected lotteries, leading to protests by colonists and a deliberate flouting of English rule and law.
By the 1770s there had been a marked drop in the number of lotteries advertised in various colonial newspapers. Author Neal Milikan in ‘Lotteries in Colonial America’ suggests this could either have either been due to those laws having taken effect, or having simply driven the practice underground.
Tides turned in the 1800s, with a renewed effort to brand gambling as immoral and those in the South as ‘Sharps’ – thieves and degenerates. With the lynching of several cardsharps in Mississippi, gambling was pushed into the West, and grew to be synonymous with what we now term today as the ‘Wild West’.
The various Gold Rushes of the 19th century gave people prime opportunity to gamble, even though it was seen as an immoral act that would be punishable by law. Rumors of gold would bring all manner of people together, and a variety of establishments and saloons crept up to cater to the crowds. Being a gambler became a profession in itself.
Even when gambling was legalized in many states across America there was always some stigma attached to the practice -- especially when it came to light that a number of major casinos were under mob control in the 1930s.
Today, gambling is legal in 26 states. Las Vegas is a go-to destination for tourists from all over the world, drawn in with thoughts of big wins. However, the likelihood of winning is almost always weighted towards the house.
Gambling has caught up with current technology and is now moving out of the casinos and betting shops and onto mobile phones. With a variety of mobile gaming apps available, as well as the rise of iGaming in virtual reality, one thing seems certain – gambling is sure to be an American pastime for many years more.