Gambling is as old as recorded history—in fact, it’s even older than that. People still refer to playing craps as “rolling bones.” That’s because the earliest gamblers were witch doctors who tossed the knucklebones of sheep on the ground. The way they landed was supposed to predict the future.
The early Greeks took the knucklebones ideas even further by adding markings to each side of the bone. And they, in turn, passed the tradition down to the Romans, who started using dice made of wood, stone, and/or ivory. Emperors like Nero and Claudius were well-known as devoted dice players.
Other early types of gambling include flipping coins, an activity which can be traced almost directly to tossing bones, and casting lots, which is old enough to have been mentioned in the Bible. In fact, that’s where the word “lottery” comes from—casting lots.
Intro to Gambling
One might say that gambling is a core part of being human. Risking one thing to gain another is as simple (and as accurate) a description of gambling as you’re likely to find. If you think about it, everyday activities like driving to work are a gamble. You might die during the commute, but the odds of that happening are low enough that you’re willing to take the risk in exchange for the potential economic benefits of showing up at a job.
Falling in love means risking heartbreak, but most people think the potential benefits are worth it. Buying a movie ticket means risking a disappointing experience at the theater, but most cinema lovers are willing to take the risk. They even hedge their bets by reading reviews first.
Most people discussing the subject of gambling are thinking of betting on sports, playing poker, or playing casino games. For lack of a better phrase, we’ll call this “traditional gambling”—the kind you’ll find in casinos both online and off.
Types of Online Gambling
Betting on Sports
In the United States, betting on sports is illegal in most jurisdictions. In fact, betting on sports using a phone is illegal throughout the country because of the Federal Wire Act. Some local jurisdictions allow sports betting, though—it’s a thriving industry in Las Vegas.
Other countries have a more enlightened view of sports betting. In Europe, especially the UK, wagering on sports is practically a national pastime. It’s certainly a thriving business. It’s no surprise to anyone that people are now using the Internet to wager on sports, too.
Dice (or some early variation of dice) might have been the first tools used in gambling, but cards are more popular now than dice. They’re a venerable gambling institution, too, having been around since at least the 14th century. The most popular gambling card game is poker.
Poker isn’t really a single game at all. It’s actually a category of card games that involves several similar elements, like betting, folding, and raising. Most poker games also use a method of comparing hands called the standard ranking to determine who wins the pot when it goes to a showdown.
Popular online poker games include Texas hold’em, Omaha, and stud.
Casino games are gambling games backed by the house. In almost every instance, the house has set the rules for these games in such a way that the casino has a mathematical edge over the player. This is how casinos stay in business.
Rouletteis one of the oldest and most popular casino games. It’s a wheel of fortune style game, with a spinning wheel, a ball, and a multitude of bets with varying payoffs depending on where the ball lands on the wheel. It’s a popular game because of its simplicity, but mathematically, it’s far from the best game in the casino.
Slots and slot machines are the most popular type of gambling in the United States and Australia, and gaming machines are growing in popularity in other countries, too. These might be the only games in the casino that are simpler than roulette—you put your money in, pull a lever (or press a button), then wait to see how much you’ve won—if anything.
Blackjack is the 2nd most popular game in most casinos. It’s a card game banked by the house, and the player’s goal is to beat the dealer. Players can beat the dealer in one of two ways in a game of blackjack—they can come closer to 21 than the dealer, or they can still be in the game when the dealer busts.
Blackjack is a simple game, but the strategy depends on the composition of the deck of cards being used. Card counters and other advantage gamblers can reduce the house edge to 0% by playing intelligently, and some of them are good enough to actually gain a mathematical edge over the house.
Other casino table gameshave varying degrees of popularity depending on your location. For example, craps is popular in the United States because of the excitement and the adrenaline involved in rooting for the shooter. Sic bo, on the other hand, is popular with Asian cultures, but it’s hard to even find a sic bo table in an American casino any more.
New table games are also being rolled out. Some of these, like Caribbean Stud or Let It Ride, have become popular, while others have fizzled out. Many of the newer table games being released into casinos are variations of poker that are banked by the house.
Video Poker looks like a slot machine game, but it actually involves strategy and decision making. Mathematically, even if you play incorrectly, many video poker variations offer a lower edge than any other game. A good Jacks or Better game played correctly provides the house with a tiny 0.5% advantage, making it comparable to blackjack. A full pay Deuces Wild game even offers a tiny edge to the player, but good luck finding a game with that pay table available.
A catch-phrase that’s become popular on the Internet is “real money gambling,” which at first glance seems like a redundant term. How could you gamble with something OTHER than real money?
The reality is that many companies, because of legal restrictions or other business concerns, offer gambling for “fake money.” You can play a wide variety of free slot machine games and other casino games on the Internet without ever risking a penny of real cash.
So the phrase “real money gambling” has become a popular word choice to describe any kind of online wagering where actual cash is on the line.
Legal Real Money Gambling
In many jurisdictions, gambling of any kind is illegal. Exceptions abound, though. Legal gambling is the status quo in cities like Las Vegas and Reno, for example. In the United States, the legality of gambling on the Internet is a murky area—state laws in some states prohibit it entirely, while other states have nothing on the books. One thing is clear, though—it’s illegal throughout the United States to operate an Internet gambling business that takes wagers from customers. That’s why most online casinos, sportsbooks, and cardrooms have their businesses located overseas.
The best advice a player can receive is to be aware of the laws regarding gambling in their jurisdiction and then do their best to follow those laws. Breaking the law is always a bad idea, even when the odds of being prosecuted are low.
Safety and security concerns also become alleviated when you only gamble with certified, legal, licensed business entities. Once you start dealing with rogue and outlaw businesses, your risk becomes much greater. Even if you win, you might not get paid by a rogue casino. For that matter, even if you break even, you might not get your initial bankroll returned to you.
Generally speaking, when dealing with online gambling companies who are licensed and operating overseas, the better-known the licensing country is, the safer the casino is to play at. For example, a license from the government of Kahnawake, which is a Native American Indian tribe in Canada, is less trustworthy than a license from the UK Gambling Commission. The first is a small, local government that most people have never heard of. The second is England. Who would you rather have looking out for your interests as a player?
Should You Gamble?
Some people shouldn’t gamble at all. Maybe they lack impulse control, or maybe they having obsessive and/or compulsive tendencies.
On the other hand, some people are able to enjoy gambling as a hobby or even a vocation—there are lots of poker players out there who earn their living from the game.
No one can decide for you whether or not you should gamble. Be honest with yourself when deciding, because compulsive gambling can ruin your live just as easily as compulsive overeating, excessive drinking, or drug use can.