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The History of Gambling

When settlers first arrived in America there were two schools of thought: the English enjoyed the risks involved in gambling whilst the Puritans wanted to leave behind the ways of their forefathers thereby illegalizing all forms of gambling.

In the English colonies gambling became an accepted pastime as long as it could be considered a pursuit of gentleman. In other words, card games were accepted whilst cockfighting wasn't.

Attracted by the potential profit involved, men throughout the colonies became involved in 'games of chance'. Unfortunately, cheats and liars were quick to see available opportunities and become involved in cons which led to gambling being blamed for the idleness of the settlers and their inability to support themselves.

Despite the problems surrounding gambling, England saw its chance to improve the situation throughout the colonies by means of lotteries that were used to raise money to pour back into improving the dependent areas. The settlers' love of gambling had been used to their own advantage.

Lotteries continued to thrive for the next few centuries, as did other forms of gambling, until eventually, during the early part of the 1800s, gambling haunts started to spring up in the river towns of the South where professional gamblers preyed on travelers. Wo betide anybody caught cheating, though; lynching proved a successful way of reducing the number of professionals operating with fraudulent means.

Poker and craps spread across America and became two of the most popular forms of gambling as a pack of cards or some dice could easily be carried and a game played anywhere. Once again, the racketeers were in business.

At about this time protests against state authorized lottery games were successful after it was proved that operators had been absconding with profits. It wasn't until after the civil war that lotteries were again used as a means to raise money to rebuild the war-torn South.

Horse racing also became popular although was riddled with fraud. Bookmakers owned horses and influenced the outcome. Eventually the sport died out and didn't regain popularity until the 1930s, when gambling was legalized as a means of improving the economy during the depression. The re-opening of racetracks led to an increased interest in parimutuel betting. Unfortunately, leaders of organized crime saw their chance to profit from the widespread interest in gambling by offering illegal games with higher stakes.

Prior to legalization, Nevada had a flourishing gambling industry that had proved impossible to prohibit. Once legalization was in place, tourists started to flock to the state to spend money at the tables.

More and more states legalized gambling in one form or another and by the 1950s, bingo was legal in 11 states, although generally only when played to raise money for charity.

The first modern state-authorized lottery started in New Hampshire in 1964, closely following by New York in 1967. Illegal 'numbers' games had always been played and the big payouts involved in the lottery games attracted a huge percentage of the population.

Gambling is, in one form or another, a popular pastime in the US. Whether you choose to play cards in a bar, roulette in a casino, pull the arm of the one-armed bandits, have a game of bingo or try your luck on the horses, you're no doubt attracted by the possible high returns coupled with the thrill of the risk involved. For some it pays off - for others it doesn't. Quite simply, gambling's a game of chance.