Problem Gambling History

People with gambling addiction issues will understand how and why one or more of them became hooked. Many explanations, but generally a mental issue like depression.

If someone wasn’t sad before they began gambling excessively, they were thereafter.

“Gambling dates back to the Paleolithic era, before writing. Mesopotamia had the first six-sided dice about 3000 BC. But they were based on astragali from thousands of years ago. In the first millennium BC, betting on fighting animals was popular in China. Lotto and dominoes were invented in China in the 10th century. Playing cards appeared in the 9th century in China. Poker, the most popular card game in America, is based on the 17th century Persian game As-Nas. The Ridotto in Venice, Italy, was the earliest documented casino. – Wiki.

The following old joke may help identify the first problem gambler:

Ancient Gambling

An archaeologist discovered a mummy while excavating in Israel’s Negev Desert. He examined it and summoned the Israel Museum curator in Jerusalem.

A 3,000-year-old guy who died of heart failure has been unearthed, the expert shouted. “Bring him in,” curator said. We’ll see.”

The curator phoned the archaeologist a week later. The mummy’s age and cause of death were correct. “How could you know?”

“Easy. He held a piece of paper. A $10,000 Goliath to win. Was this Goliath backer a gambler or just the first to put all his money on “a sure thing”?

We’ve all done it, right? We thought a specific horse, dog, team, or system couldn’t lose, only to find out it could.

Damon Runyon explains well. “Someday on your travels,” Sky Masterson remembers his father saying, “someone will approach you and offer to wager you that he can make the Jack of Spades spring out of the deck and spray cider in your ear.” But, son, don’t bet this guy, or you’ll get an earful of cider.

Sam The Gonoph, a Damon Runyon character, explains why gamblers always lose. “I’ve long concluded that life is a six-to-five.”

Gamblin’ is a guaranteed way to receive nothing for anything, says another wise man.

Gerolamo Cardano (or Jérôme Cardano) was an Italian physician, astrologer, philosopher, writer, and gambler. He was a crucial player in the creation of probability and one of the most prominent Renaissance mathematicians. His memoirs revealed his gambling addiction. “I know I deserve the worst punishment since I was hooked to the chessboard and the dicing table. I played chess for nearly forty years and dice for around twenty-five.”

Atherton’s great book Gaming: A Story of Triumph and Disaster explores how gambling became the gigantic business it is today. He narrates stories of individuals who made or lost fortunes on the whim of a card or a die. Things haven’t changed much, only the way things are dealt.

Atherton also talks of aristocrats who gambled away whole estates. Inversely, the fact that gambling debts were not legally enforced contributed encouraged high stakes gambling by allowing nobles to lose with grace.

The rising stock markets of the 18th century also allowed for lots of gambling. Sir Isaac Newton mistimed his South Sea Bubble purchases and sells, losing £20,000. Atherton reports Newton as claiming he could “calculate celestial body movements but not human madness”. Meanwhile, the novelist Daniel Defoe lost £17,000 playing on stocks and was declared bankrupt.

Small Stakes

Lotteries dominated early gaming, notably in Britain. They vanished until the National Lottery came along in 1994. Lotteries have historically thrived in places with limited legal gaming options. We had bingo, horse racing, pets, and casinos in Britain. For a little bet, you had an evening of fun and a chance to win money. A flutter was called for. There were football pools where you could win a small fortune for a few bob or the amazing Premium Bonds where you could cash in even if you didn’t win. That was very British. Then came the National Lottery and its scratch card progeny to pander to our baser inclinations. Win a few pennies, or even a few hundred, wasn’t enough anymore; you could win millions.

The poorest flocked to it, but there was nothing in it for them, save the knowledge that wealthier non-lottery participants would have their opera tickets funded by the 28% deduction for “good causes”. There were victors – multi-millionaires – but they were unusual. Everyone else was a loser; a disappointed, bitter loser afraid to quit in case their numbers came up; the ultimate backstabber. Camelot, with its clichéd Arthurian overtones, was clever. It marketed to its own greed while feeding the servile media a steady stream of “exclusives”.

To its everlasting disgrace, the BBC became a cheerleader and paid for the privilege. Moreover, Camelot had calculated. It realized it needed big prizes to attract attention. It had to reduce rewards in the limited regions where consumers had a possibility of winning to cover costs. So it paid £10 for three balls when the genuine odds were 56-1. They spent about £60 on four balls instead of the £1,000 implied by odds of 1,032-1. More than five balls would require overcoming odds of 55,491-1, while the prize itself was one in 13,983,816. 1 in 14 million. A bee sting kills one in every six million people, and two holes-in-one in the same round of golf (one in eight million) or Elvis coming back to life (less than one in ten million according to one bookmaker)

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