Tuesday, January 29, 2013

19th Century Gambling


  Gambling has always been a human pastime. Many of the popular casino games in the 19th Century originated in Europe and China. Games such as craps, baccarat, roulettte, faro, and blackjack had their origins in different areas of Europe, while keno derived from an ancient Chinese lottery game.

            Craps is a dice game in which players bet on the outcome of a roll (or series of rolls) on a pair of dice. Players can bet against each other or against the bank. Because the only equipment is the set of dice, this is an easy game to set up and play, and was very popular on the streets as well as in the gambling houses.

            Baccarat is a card game. There are three popular varieties: Punto banco (North American baccarat), baccarat chemin de fer, and baccarat banque (a deux tableaux). The first is simply a game of chance, with no skill or strategy involved, but the others allow players to make choices and bring a little skill to the game. Most casinos in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Sweden and Finland use the first version of the game. In baccarat, cards numbering 1 through 9 count at face value; 10 and face cards are worth nothing; and Aces are worth 1 point. The name itself refers to anything with a value of zero - a queen or king is a "baccarat." Cards are valued according to the final digit of the sum (a hand with a 3 and 4 would be 7, but one with a 3 and 9 would be 2). The highest hand would be a score of 9.

            Roulette is a game of chance played with a wheel (the name means "little wheel"). Players bet either red or black, odd or even, or on a specific number or range of numbers on the wheel. The wheel is spun in one direction, and a ball is spun along a track in the wheel in the opposite direction. The ball will drop into one of the colored and numbered pockets on the wheel. Another version, familiar as the "wheel of fortune," features a standing wheel with a marker to determine the final outcome of the spin.

            Faro (Pharoah, named because of the picture on the back of the typical cards) is a card game played against a bank. Players bet on one or more cards, or could bet "high card." The cards were dealt from a box, or shoe, which made cheating unlikely.

            Blackjack, also known as Twenty-One, is a card game played against a bank. Players are dealt cards one at a time, and try to either attain the sum of 21, or to beat the bank's score. Cards numbering 1 through 10 count at face value; face cards count as 10 points, and the ace can count either as 1 or 11 (if you have an ace and a queen, you have 21, but if you have an ace and a 5, it can count as 6 and you can keep drawing cards).

            Keno is a form of lottery or bingo. The Chinese played the game with sheets imprinted with 80 characters; the Europeans played with 80 numbered balls which were spun in a cage. 20 balls or characters are drawn, and players win based on how many numbers they successfully chose.

            Of course, no discussion of table gambling would be complete without the game of poker. The game as we know it today originated in America in the early or mid-18th Century, and had spread throughout the Mississippi River region by the 19th Century. The game itself is similar to many card games played in other countries, but the betting system is different enough that the Americans can claim its invention. The game was played in a variety of forms, with 52 cards, and included both straight poker (cards are dealt face down and bets are made without seeing the hands) and stud poker (cards are a mix of face-up and face-down, and bets are placed in multiple rounds). There was even a variant played using only 20 cards.

            Table games were hardly the only forms of gambling available. Various types of races have always been popular, with horse racing in the lead. However, people will bet on anything -- foot races, dog races, even camel races were popular! The basic philosophy of gambling is: if there is an outcome, you can bet on it.