British Gaming Has a Long and Colorful History

Gambling has a very long history in the UK and Ireland. As long as humans have inhabited the British isles there has been gambling. In prehistoric Britain religious rituals took place where stones and other objects were cast to the ground and their landing positions used to determine and predict future events. It is believed by anthropologists that these rituals developed into the first gambling games in Britain. Since gambling was prohibited in Rome the Romans did not contribute much to the gambling history of Britain during their occupation of the island. In 2003 an ancient grave was uncovered which contained more than 50 bone gambling pieces and deer antler dice.

In medieval England there are many historical references to dice games. In 1190 an edict was issued that prohibited military men below the rank of knight from gambling for money. Knights and clergymen could play but losses were limited legally to 20 shillings daily. Around this time bullbaiting and cockfighting were introduced to the British Isles. In the early 14th century cards were introduced and quickly became popular. Royalty loved to play cards and one historian noted that “James IV of Scotland surprised his future bride, Margaret, when he paid her his first visit, playing cards.” In the Elizabethan era Primero, the forerunner of poker was introduced and the first British lottery was launched.

In the Georgian era gambling became even more widespread and card games like baccarat faro, piquet, whist and vingt-et-un were played by the upper classes. The popularity of cards led to the creation of gentlemen’s clubs some of which still exist today. From the 1830’s to about 1900 there were many gambling houses in London which served mostly the lower classes. The government shut down the gambling houses in hopes of making gambling disappear but the longstanding love of gambling among Britons won out over.

In the early part of the twentieth century sailors introduced a form of bingo called ‘tombola. ‘The game was popular throughout the Great War despite its illegality. In the 1960’s the Betting and Gaming Act cleared the way for the establishment of bingo clubs and the rest is history. In the late 90’s bingo went online and not there are over 400 bingo sites serving the UK bingo market which is now the world’s largest. From prehistoric times to the present Britons have retained their love of gambling.

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