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The history of gambling

play games of chance for money; bet.
“he gambles on football”
Similar: bet, wager, place a bet, lay a bet, stake money on something, back the horses, try one’s luck on the horses, play the ponies, punt, chance one’s arm, have a flutter, bet on a game
take risky action in the hope of a desired result.
“he was gambling on the success of his favorite team


History tells us that the caveman had to hunt for food, the trophy was the food and they gambled with their life to survive, most times it wasn’t a well paid job, but you did get to eat.



In the Roman Days the great chariot races were held in front of huge crowds and the best seats in the house were held for the Emperors, Senators, and Sponsors of the events. Events pitted local champions against all comers from across the Empire, and it is said that huge wagers were had, and Emperors Champions that lost, sometimes lost their head as well. There were also other events held that pitted gladiators against animals and other gladiators too, these were not always fight to the death events as was once first thought, its pretty safe to assume that if they’re werent fighting for their lives, then they were likely fighting for a prize.

IMG – From the great movie – Ben Hur

The creation of the Summer Olympics officially known as the Games of the 1 Olympiad held in Athens in 1896 which represented from 14 countries some 241 athletes (all men), was the start of something new in gambling terms. While we’re quite positive there were local wagers occurring during the games, It is said that in the early days of the Summer Olympics that countries (most likely) started by the English (who enjoy a punt) representing Great Britain would wager on outcomes of races. The British always seemed to fancy their great champions (Chariots of Fire) 1924 Olympics.

While the Olympics until 1986 was considered an amateur sport, you were still able to place bets with local bookmakers on outcomes, and the 100m sprint is one of the highly contested races every 4 years. In today’s world of olympics you can place a wager on almost every single event at the games.


At the early turn of the 19th century the diggers (Australian and NZ soldiers) from the war days found ways to keep themselves entertained during the first world war. The Australians were well known for having a punt, or taking a bet, and it’s said the first book makers may very well have been Aussie’s. It was the legendary game called “Two-Up” invented by the diggers in Gallipoli who took 3 coins and tossed them in the air calling heads or tails. Either way the Heads (head-em-up) or the tails (tail-em-up) occur on every toss. Either 3 Heads (Heads Wins), 2 Heads and Tails (Heads Wins), 1 Head and 2 Tails (Tails Wins) or 3 Tails (Tails Wins). There are many great stories of the diggers gambling post war and the RSL (Retired Serviceman’s Leagues) Clubs were one place you could always get a game on Anzac Day. The game today is played in Hotels and other places all over Australia on Anzac Day. Punters, or gamblers take on each other from around the ring, in a Head vs Tails outcome, where the punters hold up the amount of money they wish to wager on say Heads and the opposing punter takes the wager against them on Tails, or vice versa. Many a small fortune has been won and lost on that day every year.

IMG – Diggers playing two up

According to Britannica card games appeared in 1370 in Europe, some sources cite a card game from China called yezi ge, which translates to “game of leaves,” is said to have originated back in 800s as the first card game.

Card games are so popular around the world, with an estimated 100m packs of cards being made, its safe to say there might be a wager or more on a few card games, and interestingly enough the number one card game in the world goes to kids game Uno!

At the WSOP one of their Annual Event buy-in is $10,000 to the No Limit Texas Hold’em event with entries of 8,663 contestants who will sit down for a long gruelling 3 day event with total prize money north of $80 million.

The Winner banks a whopping $10 million and a cool bracelet.

IMG – Credit Alec Rome – WSOP bracket 2022

The 1961 movie ‘The Hustler’ starring Paul Newman, Jackie Glesson and George C Scott was written as a love story about a young Eddie Felson who while touring to win falls in love with Sarah Packard played by Piper Laurie. Eddie (also know as ‘Fast Eddie’) found his way into the underbelly of hustlers, gamblers, urgers and criminals that surrounded bars and private locations where pool was a cheap man’s sport to play, but where the big dollars from gamblers were. The problem was they could trick you into believing you could bet them. That was the hustler, lure the other guy in, give them enough belief and when you did, they were full of confidence that you couldn’t lose, you’d up the bet and take them for everything they had. In the movie a player like Minnesota Fats played by Jackie Gleeson, was the ultimate hustler, as he already had a reputation of being unbeatable but still had enough charm and lure to make you think you could beat him.

That’s when the “Hustler’ has you right where they want you, they convince you to up the bets, and surprisingly now they play that little bit better and beat you for all the money, hence the term hustled. Today in almost every local pub, bar, pool hall, and snooker room there’s a guy that will bet you on any game, while hustling is less common (and seriously frowned upon, you used to have your arms broken if you did), most players still like the thrill of playing and beating the other guy for all the ‘marbles’.

IMG – Minnesota Fats and Fast Eddie Felson (‘The Hustler’)

The Great Depression was a time when gambling was first legalised in the United States in the 1930’s, as the State Government looked for ways to generate revenue, they turned to the great sport of horse racing. Tracks opened up across all of the United States and Gambling or betting on horse races became legal in 1933 in California. In 1935 it was a $100,000 prize offered at the Santa Anita track that brought the horses and fans together to change the course of a nation. Azucar the 7 yr old won “The Big ‘Cap’”. Today that very same race is run for over $650,000.

IMG – OLD Horse Racing Image (Depression time)

There have of course been many tales of ‘fixed races’ where the jockey’s were influenced or worse threatened to make sure a certain horse won the race or races on the day. There have even been occasions when the horse that was not supposed to win had bolted to the lead, leaving the Jockey with no alternative but to literally jump off the horse (and face the stewards enquiry, fine and suspension) or face the consequences of the ‘fixers’.

Today known as “The Sport of Kings’ horse racing around the world is a mutli-billion dollar sport and you can bet around the clock on horses, greyhounds, trots and other races. Go to any sports book around the world and you’ll see a list of the daily races, guides, tips, insights and bonuses offerings luring you into the great sport of horse racing.

A bookmaker, bookie, or turf accountant is an organization or a person that accepts and pays off bets on sporting and other events at agreed-upon odds.

In Australia every track either horse or greyhounds (dogs) has licensed bookmakers, the bookmaker sets the odds for the races.

By “adjusting the odds” in their favour (paying out amounts using odds that are less than what they determined to be the true odds) or by having a point spread, bookmakers aim to guarantee a profit by achieving a ‘balanced book’, either by getting an equal number of bets for each possible outcome or (when they are offering odds) by getting the amounts wagered on each outcome to reflect the odds.[2] When a large bet comes in, a bookmaker may also try to lay off the risk by buying bets from other bookmakers. Bookmakers do not generally attempt to make money from the bets themselves but rather by acting as market makers and profiting from the event regardless of the outcome. Their working methods are similar to those of an actuary, who does a similar balancing of financial outcomes of events for the assurance and insurance industries.

IMG – Bookmakers taking bets

There are legendary stories in Australia of Kerry Packers (now past away was one of Australia’s richest men who enjoyed large wagers) Bookmaker Bruce McKernan who was said to take some of the largest bets in Australian sports history on races during the year. Tale has it that Kerry Packer was said to like a ‘wager’ and was known to be a ‘whale’ placing bets with McKernan north of a million dollars a race. It is also said that at one point McKernan made the call to Mr Packer who had a large outstanding balance owing, and that McKernan was cashing in and retiring, of which Mr Packer obliged the outstanding amount without question. For McKernan probably the smartest move you could make when the other guy literally had a bank full of cash to bet with.

Boxing is known as the riskiest sport to place a bet on due to fighters ‘taking a dive’, or throwing the bout on purpose so that they could cash in on the bet (also known as ‘the fix is in’).

History though tells us that it all started with Barenuckle boxing and wagers ran plentiful in those days as viewers couldn’t resist backing the guy they felt was going to win the contest.

IMG – Bare Knuckle Boxing

In 2015 the boxing world saw Pay Per View reach astonishing levels and so did the prize money. The Mayweather vs Pacquiao was said to have generated 333m pounds, a gate of 58m pounds and a record of 223m pounds to Floyd and 112m pounds to Manny. Mayweather started the fight the at -240 (or $1.40) favorite you could get +400 (or $3.00) Pacquiao, Mayweather got the nod from the judges as the fight went the distance. Rapper 50 cent placed a $1.6m bet on Mayweather, bet he was happy Floyd ducked and moved as well as he did in the fight.

Now with the rise of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), fighting enthusiasts now have an alternative to Boxing to place bets on. The sport hasnt quite reached the heights of the professional boxing world but it does have its stars and appeal, and punters tend to enjoy betting on it, the biggest PPV event in UFC history saw Khabib Nurmagomedov defend his UFC Lightweight Championship against McGregor, the event booked $180m from PPV.

Countries like India (predominantly betting on cricket) have seen a substantial rise in gambling due to the introduction of the T20 format which now hosts one of the premium professional sports leagues in the world, and its suggested that while betting is neither legal nor illegal in India, there are some 140 million punters placing bets on the games and that this market is north of $150 billion dollars annually.

Country Per Capita
According to the Gambling Statistics Worldwide Australia per capita betting ranks amongst the largest in the world. This list put together by the Economist is interesting –

In 2022 it is estimated that the Sports Betting market size in the US is around $73 billion.

Largest known sports bets in the world?

Astros, Jim McIngvale is said to have collected $75million USD in winning on the Houston Astros 2022 World Series, after placing bets of $10million USD. That’s some chunk of change right there.

Where there are winners, there are also losers and we wouldn’t want to kick a guy while he’s down, so we won’t list these here, but there are some big ones! There’s also a reason casinos and bookmakers are amongst the wealthiest companies in the world.

The rise of sports betting is nothing new, people have been betting on sports for centuries – however with the rise of online sportsbooks and the ease of accessing online sportsbooks to place bets via smart phones across the world is something new. Most sportsbooks are offering sports outcomes in all the popular sports like soccer, cricket, rugby, and of course betting outcomes in all of the major American professional sports including NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and now on into the women’s sports as well like WNBA.

Women’s sports have now entered the sports gambling world and some would say without the punters the sport itself wouldn’t be able to maintain its momentum, as advertisers and sponsors look to find positions in this area. One thing is clear that women like to compete every bit as much as the men do, and with womens sports like Rugby Sevens, Cricket, Netball, AFL and Soccer all taking the front stage, it’s a very exciting time for women’s sports and for punters in these sports.

The new offerings from Sportsbooks include ‘Same Game Multis’ or ‘Same Game Parlays’ where you place 2 or more outcomes together from the same game. This increases the tip value or your payout amount, however it also increases the chances of losing. You can guess what happens when you start adding 3,4,5 or more outcomes together in the same game how the chances of all outcomes winning drastically decreases. Sportsbooks are also offering early ‘payouts’ or ‘cashouts’ in many single and or multi leg bets. They offer a reduced payout during the event, or even sometimes with other outcomes within the same bet still to occur. This offers the punter some extra value as they can take the early money and bank it rather than have all their money go down to the very last outcome (which often loses).

We see the rise of in-game online live betting in sports a real mover. While it’s currently by phone only for most outcomes, in Australia the TAB has installed machines at all major licensed venues where you can bet live on most sports directly at the TAB machine, if you’re trying to use your phone and bet online, you usually have to make a call and confirm your bet with an agent. As technology continues to evolve, and the bookmakers ability to build systems to offer in-game live online betting, we feel this will be available in the near future with the possibility of clicking away during live events. This brings all kinds of new possibilities to the industry.

That’s all we have on the history of gambling and as the Famous Song by Kenny Rogers goes –

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done