Games of chance have always attracted passionate players and the appeal of Lady Luck never seemed to dwindle. They have thrived for thousands of years, even before written history and up to modern times when we can indulge in gambling on our electronic devices without even having to walk to the nearest casino establishment. Games have changed and flourished, but the passion for playing remained the same. India is a country that boasts a rich history when it comes to gambling and still nurtures a strong passion for it in various forms and guises. That said, it’s well worth taking a glance at the origins of casino games and how and where it all began.
Gambling stories of ancient India
The Ramayana (one of two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India) cites certain forms of games of chance believed to date back as far as 7300 BC. It describes gambling boards, believed by some to be the game of chess, as well as gambling with dice. The popular saying ‘to lose one’s shirt’, meaning to lose money, originated in ancient India. The old Sanskrit texts compare trees that have been stripped of their fruit to defeated gamblers who lost their clothes and ornaments in a wager.
While the Ramayana casually mentions gambling and does not condone it in any sense of the word, the second epic (the Mahabharata) tells a different story. The main antagonist, Shakuni, arranges a dice game against king Yudhishthira whom he cheated out of all his wealth and kingdom. When another antagonist, Duryodhana, insisted that there was no place for two crown princes in the kingdom, another dice game was arranged which ended in the exile of the royal family.
First Gambling Devices
Buddhist texts mention Indians gambling with nuts as dice as early as 300 BC. Apart from being fond of dice, Indians developed a taste for gambling on animals. At first, ram and cockfights were all the rage which was followed by the more sophisticated horse racing later. What is interesting is that while Europeans are generally given credit for developing certain games of chance, most of the earlier versions of gambling devices had Indian symbols on them.
The 15th century witnessed the rise of legal gambling houses all across India. They were heavily regulated to make sure the games were fair and square so that the players would willingly submit their dues to the king. This was the beginning of the first gambling tax.
When the British introduced cricket to India in the 18th century, Indians fell completely in love with the game. Cricket paved the way for sports betting which flourished in the country until the British took over and passed the Gambling Act in 1867 which outlawed all games of chance. Although they couldn’t abolish the games which still went on in secret, India never looked favorably on gambling again.
The perspective of the Indian government on gambling is that it is the temptation that lures players to bet beyond their means, ruining their lives and their families. India’s 29 states and seven Union territories have the authority to decide whether to legalize gambling or not. Each state has a different legislative council and even though most of them do not support it, they do allow some forms of it, such as betting on horse races and the lottery. Since gambling restrictions are still in effect to a large extent, many have turned to online options and can choose from some of the best online casinos for India to scratch that itch. Almost 40% of internet users in the country have admitted to spending some of their time playing online casino games with no particular intention of earning large sums of money, but just to have fun and pass the time.
The history of India, which is almost 4000 years long, is brimming with amusing anecdotes of gamblers winning and losing in their favorite games. However, the future might not have as much room for such stories, since the gambling ban is still in effect. The Indian government still doesn’t trust its people to use their own judgment and roll the dice deciding their own fate. If the rules should ever change, the casino industry will be able to boost the Indian economy to a great extent. The people will enjoy their games while the country reaps the benefits. Some would say, a win-win situation.