Chronicles of Casino Gaming: Uncovering the Earliest Games Played in Casinos

If you want to play your favorite casino games in a land-based casino setting, New Zealand has some pretty cool venues to offer, but it didn’t until 1994 which is very recent when put into perspective and compared to some other countries. The Casino di Venezia in the Italian city of Venice for instance opened its doors in 1638, and still holds the record for the oldest continuously operating casino in the world.

Gambling itself however has been around for centuries and some would say that the concept of games of chance is as old as civilization itself. The grandeur of big wins has drawn many people over the centuries and it will always continue to do so. Casinos, however, didn’t really exist as we know them today for a long time, although there were undoubtedly similar gambling establishments in almost all countries and civilizations. In this guide, we will take a close look at the oldest games of chance that still exist today and can be played in New Zealand as well.

The Origins of Gambling

Gambling is not a recent phenomenon to say the very least. In fact, the origins of the word come from the Middle English word (the period from around 1150 CE to around 1450), “gammon”, which means “to play, jest, be merry,”. Looking back even further in time, you will find that gambling actually started in prehistoric times although the word used for the activity has changed over the centuries. From cavemen calculating the odds of being able to kill their enemies to today’s sports bettors, calculating probability has always been at the back of our minds. Archaeological evidence shows that as far back as the Old Stone Age, cavemen liked to play games of chance with the family after a hard day of work in the field.

  • In other regions, the game Senet has been found in tombs and on hieroglyphs in Egypt. The objects used to play it even turned out to be a talisman for the so-called journey of the dead. This game depended largely on luck and randomness, which made people believe the winner of the game was protected by the gods.
  • For a long, Bafa was the most popular game played in the Roman Empire, practiced by everyone from slaves to the most powerful Emperors. Caesar, Nero, and other Romans rolled Bafa for coins and even to earn clothes.
  • The Greeks were also known to be gambling enthusiasts. At the time, Greek philosophers actually condemned the act of gambling, leading to stringent measures to limit it. The most common form of gambling in ancient Greece involved dice. The first Greek dice were made of animal bones or knuckle bones.

The Oldest Casino Games

Now that we know that most ancient civilizations spent their time playing their own games of chance, it’s time to have a closer look at the oldest casino games. Not all games of chance make it to the casino floor, which is why the games below deserve some extra attention. These are what we believe to be the oldest casino games still played today:


Whilst roulette as we know it today was invented in France in the 18th century, it was invented (in some way) in the 17th century by physicist Blaise Pascal. At the time, Pascal was trying to create a perpetual motion machine which was supposed to be a device that would spin continually via its own energy. Whilst his machine did not work, it did pave the way for what we know now as the roulette wheel. In the 1720s, an earlier version of the game, called ‘roly poly’, first appeared in Britain and was banned in 1739. Towards the end of the 18th century, the first versions of today’s roulette wheel took shape and started to be displayed in establishments across the country of France. The numbers on the roulette wheel were taken from the French game of Biribi, which is described as a low-stakes lotto.


The first reference to the game of blackjack is found in a novel by the world-famous Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. One of the short stories in his Novelas Ejemplares (printed in 1613) follows two card cheats that are experts at rigging 21 games to their benefit. This particular story was written in the very early 1600s, which means blackjack had probably been played by the Spanish for quite sometime before that as it gained nationwide attention. Once Blackjack, or 21, found its way to the United States, various casinos in the country adapted the game to boost the interest of players. Bonuses turned out to be a great way to draw the crowds and one of the most popular bonus hands was the combination of blackjack and ace of spades. Whereas this bonus hand did not stay around all that long, the name of it did. This is what the game came to be known for.


A lot of land-based and online casinos have added keno to their portfolio, but it has quite an odd and possibly even unexpected origin: China. The earliest versions of keno clearly weren’t the same as we know it today as it’s been adapted, upgraded, and refined over the years, but the basics were definitely there. The game is said to be invented in ancient China around the same time as the construction of the Great Wall of China (built as early as the 7th century BC), considered a way to raise enough money to build the wall. Keno gained worldwide popularity after it was brought to the Western world in the 19th century via the spread of Chinese immigrants to places like Europe and North America.


Whilst there are obviously different casino games that are played with dice, with craps being the most popular one on a global scale probably, the small objects turned out to have a huge impact on the world of gambling. It was claimed by the Greek poet Sophocles that dice were invented in Greece which would suggest that the dice date back to 400 BC. In Egypt, dice are estimated to be used in the period from 2000 BC. The game of Craps originated in London but gained popularity on the other side of the ocean. Once it reached the United States via the city of New Orleans, it evolved and made it to the version of craps we know today.


Poker’s history doesn’t go back as far as the other games mentioned in this guide, but we are pretty sure that poker fans would like to know a bit more about this game. The origins of the poker casino game can be traced back to the years in which gambling emerged as a commercial phenomenon and was exploited with the idea to attract as many players as possible. The card game became a big hit in the 19th century, and in 1829 the English actor Joseph Crowell documented how he saw how American citizens played the game as well in New Orleans. In the 1930s, however, Robert Foster wrote that the game, as played in the US, was referred to as As-Nas and originated in ancient Persia. At this time, poker had already been popularised in the southern states in the US as gambling riverboats in the Mississippi River and around New Orleans helped spread the game during the 1830s.


Gabrielle Hills

I'm Gabrielle Hills and I have more than 3 years of experience in the gambling industry, As a senior editor, I aspire hard to analyze different online gambling clubs and rewards and distinguish the best ones for the players. I would like to show you, how new players begin their journey with online gambling very easily without prior knowledge. Regarding this context, you can find out which online casino bonuses and NZ casinos are worthwhile for novices as well as experienced players. I believe in constructive criticism so readers can approach me anytime to provide their feedback.

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