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Games of Chance: Inside the History & Evolution of Gaming


Throughout human history, scholars have found a few interesting trends in terms of entertainment. Overwhelmingly, there are two constants. First, civilizations worldwide had an interest in wrestling and similar athletic feats. Second, many ancient civilizations also enjoyed playing games of chance with rudimentary dice.

Unsurprisingly, these early interests have stood the test of time. Today, wrestlers and boxers are some of the most omnipresent competitors in the world. The popularity of the Olympics also highlights the global love of sporting events. The same goes for chance-based games. Despite the rise of eSports, humans worldwide remain obsessed with games that involve elements of chance.


Today, the world’s most popular and ubiquitous game of chance is the slot game. Most players today focus on online slots, as titles like Finn and the Swirly Spin and Gonzo’s Quest are renowned for their graphic displays and loose storylines. But behind each slot, including video slots in brick-and-mortar casinos and digital titles found on online platforms, relies on a mechanism of chance known as a random number generator.


These RNGs ensure each outcome is unpredictable—and it’s that element of chance that keeps players coming back. In fact, it’s been at the heart of entertainment for millennia, stretching back to some of our world’s first civilizations. Let’s explore.

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Stretching back thousands of years, humans have been crafting homemade dice from things like bones.

The Case of Rudimentary Dice

Stretching back thousands of years, humans have been crafting homemade dice from things like bones. In fact, our world’s oldest known board games were played on rudimentary tablets with rudimentary dice. The oldest is known as the Royal Game of Ur, a staple for our ancient Mesopotamian ancestors. The next is Ancient Egypt’s Senet game, also played with a board and dice.


Both games involved multiple players attempting to overtake a board. A roll of the dice would determine the rules for their next move, which likely revolved around or harkened back to military strategy. The Royal Game of Ur dates back to 2400 BCE, while Senet might date back to 3100 BCE.


But archeologists continue to uncover new and similar games. One recent dig in Israel uncovered pieces of a game that’s similar to astragalomancy, which was a favorite of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It includes elements of both gaming and oracle consultation.

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Unknowns at the Hippodrome

However, the ancient Romans weren’t just throwing dice to forecast an outcome in the ancient world. Along with astragalomancy, citizens enjoyed a dance with chance at the racetracks. The Roman Circus was a place where people gathered to place bets on races and other athletic events.


Though this doesn’t involve dice, it still closely ties the unknown with entertainment. After all, nobody knew how a race would pan out in the same way that modern bettors can’t reliably determine which team will win a match. That’s why people enjoy the activity—because they want to put their minds to the test and see if they can predict an unpredictable event.

Poker Case Study: From Persia to New Orleans

Clearly, hobbies from the ancient world point to our modern obsession with chance-based entertainment. But it’s important to understand how these games evolved incrementally. Let’s cover an example in poker, one of the world’s most popular card games. Some scholars believe the game has its origins in As-Nas, a medieval card game from Persia that also has connections to an ancient game called Ganjifa.


As-Nas involves multiple suits like a modern card deck. Players battle one another to create the best hand, which includes the ability to bluff to fool others. The idea is that As-Nas might have traveled west into Europe through trade routes around the 17th century. From there, it may have intersected and influenced the evolution of games like Germany’s pochen and French’s poque.


Pochen and poque, in turn, traveled even further west through the colonial era and into places like the United States. Eventually, in the early 1800s, mentions of poker were recorded in New Orleans. This means that one of the most popular games of chance still played may have an origin in both medieval Persia and Europe.

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