While modern society’s interest in gambling is undoubtedly at an all-time high, our love affair with the popular social pastime was established much, much earlier. Going as far back as Ancient Greece, gambling has had a profound effect on the course of history, resulting in many quirky tidbits being passed into modern casino folklore. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 15 of the most outlandish gambling facts in existence and explore the stories that led to each one becoming canon.
What Happens In Vegas...
Where better to start our countdown of unbelievable gambling facts than the home of high stakes action, Las Vegas? Colloquially known as “Sin City”, the desert settlement has long-since established itself as the world’s most popular gambling destination with millions of visitors flocking to the casinos of downtown Vegas and the Strip every year. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that some tall tales have emerged from America’s gambling Mecca, and here are five that didn’t stay in Vegas.
1) One of the earliest pieces of Las Vegas folklore came back in 1950, when an unnamed sailor recorded an incredible 27 consecutive wins in a game of craps. With the odds against such an unlikely streak coming in at a prohibitive 12,467,890-to-1, you might have though our anonymous hero would have been set for life, but unfortunately his modest wagering meant he only made $750.
2) One man who did walk away from Vegas with an absolute fortune, however, was a 25-year-old engineer, who to this day holds the record for the largest ever land-based slot win. Playing on the Megabucks machine, the lucky gambler managed to out-spin odds of 16.7 million-to-one to land a top prize of $39,710,826.36, instantly earning himself a worthy spot in Sin City gambling immortality.
3) Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport is currently the 8th busiest terminal in the world with 850 flights a day and well over 2.5 million visitors arriving each month. With the vast majority of these guests coming to Las Vegas to gamble, it should come as no surprise that slot machines are liberally dotted around the airport – after all, a reported 68% of gamblers prefer reel-based games.
4) While we’ve all heard the expression “blue-chip companies” before, most of us don’t realise that this phrase has its origins in Las Vegas too. Given casinos typically use blue chips to denote higher values than their white or red counterparts, the saying has since become common parlance when referring to an established business enterprise, conveying a sense of prestige and trustworthiness.
5) Although Las Vegas is the most-visited gambling destination in the world, in terms of casino profits and stake-per-player, it actually pales in comparison to Macau. Known as the “Vegas of the East”, the Asian peninsula reportedly brought in profits of $45.2 billion in 2013, with resident high rollers taking just a day to bet what Vegas veterans typically wager in a week at the casino tables.
A First Time For Everything
Of course, while Las Vegas is the perfect source for some eyebrow-raising statistics when it comes to gambling, it would be foolish to assume that it is the only place to look for outlandish facts. With modern gambling pre-dating “Sin City” by hundreds of years, there are a number of “firsts” that have occurred all over the globe, many of which have gone on to shape the industry we know today. In light of this, here are five more facts about gambling origins and how certain games came to be.
1) While America is largely seen as the go-to place for gambling activity, the first bricks-and-mortar casino was actually opened in Venice as far back as 1638. Owned by the ever-famous Casanova, the building was used to host civic activities such as dancing, music and gambling, with the name “casino” actually being derived from the Italian “casa” – a summerhouse or other place of pleasure.
2) The first online casino, meanwhile, was opened in Antigua in 1996. Named InterCasino, the online site originally offered just 18 casino games as well as access to National Indian Lottery, with more titles being added as online players grew accustomed to greater choice over the years. Subject to favourable gambling regulation and tax laws, Antigua still remains a popular gaming hub to this day.
3) Ever wondered where the four suits used in modern decks of cards first originated from? Well, the common belief is the symbols derive from early French decks, where they were used to represent four distinct classes of society; clubs being symbolic of the peasantry, diamonds denoting merchants and traders, hearts representing the clergy and spades being emblematic of the military classes.
4) Another gambling innovation to supposedly originate in France was the world’s first roulette wheel. With records suggesting that French mathematician Blaise Pascal developed the device while trying to create a machine that would remain in perpetual motion, his designs have since been adjusted and adopted by modern casinos, where they now form the basis of the popular table game.
5) Returning to America for a moment, the first ever slot machine was designed by Charles Fey, a car mechanic whose goal was to create something for customers to do while they waited for repairs. Featuring three spinning reels, the machine utilised just five symbols – diamonds, hearts, horseshoes, spades and Liberty Bells – with the last item on that list giving the slot its iconic name.
History Is Written By The Winners
There has always been a close link between gambling and the well-to-do of society, with everyone from the foremost thinkers of ancient history to the modern political elite known to have enjoyed a flutter over the years. Indeed, with gambling providing an endless source of fascination for scholars and world leaders alike, table games have shaped the course of history in a very real sense – and to reflect this fact, our final tidbits focus on the public figures that have been influenced by gambling.
1) The earliest figure of historical importance to leave their mark on the gambling world was undoubtedly the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who wrote a detailed guide explaining the probabilities of dice and how they can be manipulated. Although the invention of craps would be years later, suffice to say Plato’s student probably wouldn’t be welcomed at most modern casinos.
2) Although not a direct contribution in the field of gambling, table games were certainly the catalyst for one of the greatest inventions of all time: the sandwich. Created by notorious card player John Montagu – a.k.a. the Earl of Sandwich – the bread-based treat was designed so that he could continue to eat at the tables without getting his cards dirty and is now a popular lunchtime staple.
3) One of the famous gambling stories that has earned its place in American folklore is that of former President, Richard Nixon, who funded his congressional election campaign with the money he won playing cards in the South Pacific during World War II. A more recent example of a prominent politician gambling is Barack Obama, who is also known to have been something of a card-sharp.
4) While it’s a common saying that the “rich get richer”, no better was this evidenced than in 2000, when President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, won 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars playing in a private lottery. Though President Mugabe’s win only amounted to around $2,600 USD at the time, to this day the controversial leader still remains the only modern Head of State to have won the lottery.
5) Speaking of lotteries, have you ever wondered where the money spent on your losing tickets actually ends up? Over the years, the proceeds from state lotteries have been used to fund many public projects – particularly in China, where landmarks such as the Great Wall of China have benefited from an influx of money. We hope that makes you feel better the next time you strike out.