Friday, November 13, 2009

History of Gambling

My recently completed novel, The Glass Partridge, is set in Venice during the 1600s, and because the heroine loves to gamble, I researched the history of gambling. Here is some information I gathered during my search.
Archeologists have uncovered evidence of gambling in ancient times. Knucklebones of sheep were a primitive form of dice, but a pair of ivory dice, dating before 1500 B.C. was found in Egypt, proving that the dice of today are much like those used for centuries.
Betting on athletic games at the Roman coliseum drew rich and poor alike. Later, during the Middle Ages, gambling in all its forms took place in private homes and also in public.
Before the invention of the printing press, cards were a rich man’s game, as each card was stamped from a woodcut. Later, a deck of cards was readily accessible in every tavern in Europe. When the English came to the New World, they brought the culture of gambling with them, but the Puritan-led Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed possession of cards and dice (along with dancing and singing). Later, the rules were relaxed, as long as the game was an innocent one and no money exchanged hands.
In The Glass Partridge, the heroine goes to a ridotto, a salon for gambling and other pastimes. Ridotti became very popular in Europe, even serving as forums for the arts. Verdi celebrated the opening of his opera, Rigoletto, in the Ridotto San Moise.
In the 1800s, the Doge of Venice closed the ridotti, and they were reopened as state run casinos.
For further reading, there is a very good book by David Schwartz, titled Roll the Bones, which covers every aspect of the history of gambling in Europe and the United States.