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The Origins of Modern Casino Games


Since shortly after man discovered fire, we’ve been obsessed with gambling as a form of entertainment. From the first incorporation of dice in games of chance to the 3-D graphics on the video poker machines we see today, gambling has undergone many transformations over the years.

From craps to slot machines, here are the weird origins of modern casino games.

Roll Them “Crabs”

Craps was initially called Hazard. Or at least the first iterations of the game resembling Craps was Hazard.

The game Hazard has been traced back to the 1200s and first began in Arabic culture. The game was brought to Europe following the Crusades and became a massive hit with European gamblers.

The game Hazard made its way to America along with the first colonists. Craps was born after the game of Hazard was simplified by a French aristocrat in Louisiana.

The game immediately skyrocketed in popularity, and it became deeply ingrained in the culture in the southern United States.

Craps was actually “crabs” initially, but the Louisiana players’ thick creole accents sounded like “craps.” So, craps it became, and craps it remains.

The game was mostly relegated to impromptu home games or in bars’ back hallways for over a century.

That changed in 1910, John Winn invented the version of the game we enjoy today.

Real money craps offers some of the most electrifying action on the casino floor. Millions of players enjoy the game in casinos around the world.

If you’re new to the craps table, try sticking with the simple bets. Pass and Don’t Pass lines are some of the best bets in the casino, and they have an extremely low house edge of below 1.5%.

Ancient Keno Continues to Thrive

The only thing in the casino that’s been around longer than Keno may be the players you see in the Keno hall.

I kid, and I have a healthy respect and admiration for our senior citizens. After all, it takes a lot to make it that far in life.

Keno actually dates back much farther to ancient Chinese huts from over 2,200 years ago. Chinese villagers had their own game called pakapoo, and it’s the great-grandfather to modern Keno.

Archeologists have discovered evidence that many of these small villages had a completely sanctioned game resembling modern Keno as far back as the third century B.C.

In the 1840s, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants made their way to a new life in the United States and brought the game of pakapoo with them.

The immigrants first kept the game among themselves, but it quickly grew in popularity and was dubbed the “Chinese Lottery.”

Thankfully, that name didn’t stick, and Keno was born. Keno is a twist on the French word for “a group of 5.”

Keno made its casino launch in 1933, but Nevada law prohibited player’s cards from having numbers. So, the players chose random names of fictional racehorses that were then drawn from.

The Small Wheel

Roulette dates back to France in the 1700s. Roulette or “small wheel” has been a tremendous success ever since.

It seems that nobody can quite pin down who actually invented the game of Roulette. Many have been assigned at least partial credit for the game’s invention. Still, it seems that it may have been a collaborative effort.

One thing does seem certain; it originated around 1715 in France. Another widely accepted fact about the game’s origins is that it’s an evolution of another game called portique.

For nearly 75 years, the game of roulette was tweaked and tuned into the modern roulette wheel we have today.

While the game exploded in popularity in much of Europe throughout the 1800s, the United States’ gamblers were seemingly crazed by the simple and exciting game.

Today, roulette is one of the most popular casino games in the world. You’ll find multiple roulette wheels scattered around the casino floor, and each table is sure to be full of excited players.

You’re best off playing roulette on a European Wheel, which has only 1 zero. This slightly improves your chances, and that can make a big difference.

Your best roulette bet is to stick with the even money bets like odd/even or red/black. You’ve got almost a 50% chance of winning every hand. 

That means that over your entire gambling session, you’ll lose much more slowly, and you’ve got a decent shot at leaving the table with some of the casino’s movie in your pocket.

Poker Hand for the Ages

Games similar to poker can be traced back to 16th century Europe. Players used cards similar to those we use today to make 3-card hands.

However, I believe the closest relative of modern poker to be As-nas. As-nas originated in Persia during the 1600s.

As-nas was played with decks of either 20 or 25 cards. The makeup of a deck was largely similar to our modern decks, minus the numbered cards.

The decks used in As-nas had 5 aces (As). Typically, 5 each of kings, ladies, soldiers, and entertainers ranked in descending order.

Players would receive 5 cards and try to make hands with pairs, 3, 4, or 5 of a kind. A full house was considered to be the best hand, and sequential hands weren’t developed because there were no suits and only 4-5 cards in a run.

While it’s vastly different from the game-flow in Texas Hold’em, I’m confident any poker player could easily fit into a game of As-nas.

I’m not sure if Texas Hold’em would be backward compatible. For starters, there’s more than double the number of cards in a deck.

It would take quite the effort to explain card values, hole cards, the flop, the river, and the turn. Of course, then you’d have to explain hand rankings, the dealer button, and blinds.

Texas Hold’em, the game we know and love today, came out of Robstown, Texas, during the early 1900s. It really gained traction after the World Series of Poker became popular in the late 1970s.

Don Quixote 21

Blackjack is another game that the pundits can’t seem to agree on. Some say it’s a Spanish game, and the earliest written record does appear to be that of Miguel de Cervantes.

Cervantes, of course, is the brilliant author of Don Quixote. This account has the game in Spain prior to 1601.

Many credit the French with inventing the game, which was originally called Trente-Un or 31. This actually holds merit because it has been noted throughout history back to 1464.

The reasoning being that Vingt-un (21) is a condensed version of the popular Trente-Un game. During the 1800s, Vingt-un became a huge hit with gamblers throughout Europe and North America.

The term blackjack was used in the late 1800s to describe a clublike weapon. Similar to the blackjacks used today by truckers to check for tire pressure.

By the 1900s, Vingt-un had become blackjack, and the rest is history.

If you’re unfamiliar with casino blackjack, I encourage you to change that before your next trip to the casino.

Blackjack is one of the easiest casino games to learn. In fact, there’s a basic strategy that will tell you the best play on every single hand you can get based on what the dealer is showing.

You can pick up a basic strategy card in the casino gift shop and use it at the table. It would be best to use the chart on every single hand for it to be most effective.

You’re going to have much better odds playing blackjack than mindlessly slapping the spin button on the slot machines.

The One Arm Bandit Is Born

If I told you that the one arm bandit was born in a mechanic’s garage, you might imagine some shady robber that caught a dose of instant karma.

However, that’s a long way from how real money slot machines got their start.

Charles Fey immigrated from Germany and settled in as an auto mechanic in San Fransisco. Fey needed a way to keep his customers entertained and out of his hair while performing the work on their cars.

In 1894, Fey went to work, and the first modern slot machine was born. It became a hit with his customers, and Fey soon talked a local bar owner into putting one of the one-arm bandits into his saloon.

Fey made so much money in his first month that he closed up shop and opened a slot machine factory. Within 15 years, the city had over 3000 of his machines scattered about town.

San Fransisco banned the machines, but by that time, the slot machine was here to stay. Fey began shipping his machines worldwide, and today it’s common to find well over 1,000 of Fey’s invention in a single casino.


From craps to slots, these are the weird origins of modern casino games. Some of the games we love today went through hundreds of years of development by our ancestors to fit a slot for every type of gambler.

Casinos bring all of the fun to 1 huge party where we can escape the stresses of everyday life and for a moment entertain ourselves like humans have for thousands of years, with a game and a drink.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. …

View all posts by Michael Stevens

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