Fascinating Facts About Playing Cards

min read
A group of people playing cards on a makeshift table.
BetMGM Jun 17, 2024, 11:15 AM

There are many meanings attached to playing cards. To some people, a card like an ace could create a strong hand, while a spade could be a symbol of death for someone else. Nine could be your personal lucky number, but the nine of diamonds is considered the unluckiest card or the Curse of Scotland. It doesn’t matter whether you believe playing cards are just numbers or important omens; they’re an integral part of many beloved casino table games. Take a look at the history of playing cards and a few fun facts you probably didn’t know about them.

A Brief History of Playing Cards Around the World

In the U.S., almost every household has a deck of playing cards. The United States Playing Card Company is one of the biggest playing card manufacturers, with over 100 million decks produced annually. But the history of playing cards doesn’t begin in the West. Playing cards were not even initially used for games like poker or live dealer blackjack.

The first playing cards can be traced back over 1,000 years ago to the Chinese Tang Dynasty. During this time in the 9th century, the first complete playing card deck only had 32 cards, which is the maximum number of combinations you can get from a pair of dice. This means the first playing cards were used for dice games and games like Mahjong rather than table games. The earliest playing cards were first made of heavier materials like rock and wood, but later slips of paper with dotted designs like modern dominoes were used.

From China, playing cards slowly spread across India, Egypt and Persia. They reached Europe in the 1370s when Italian and Spanish merchants brought them in. The cards were considered luxury items for the rich because they were hand-painted. This is how card games became a popular pastime for upper-class Europeans, which helped continue the distribution of playing cards along the European trade route in the 15th century.

Today the popularity of playing cards continues to rise. With the invention of more variety games than ever, combined with the convenience of casino games online and offline, you can rest assured that playing cards are here to stay.

10 Interesting Facts About Playing Cards

If you want to learn how to play table games in Vegas casinos, you have to spend time studying different playing cards and their ranks. But there are so many more interesting features to discover in a playing card deck beyond values and numbers. Here are a few facts you may have yet to learn.

1. The Strange Link Between Playing Cards and the Calendar

Decks of cards didn’t always have 52 cards. In fact, old decks had 24, 36, 40 or 48 cards. While it’s unclear why the standard became 52 cards in a deck, the reason could be the link between playing cards and the calendar.

The total number of 52 cards in a deck corresponds to the number of weeks in a year. The colors red and black are believed to signify day and night, while the four suits represent the four seasons. Even though these facts might sound more coincidental, it becomes even more fascinating as you dig deeper.

The 13 cards in a suit match the number of lunar cycles, while the 12 court cards represent the months in a year. However, the craziest fact of all is that if you were to add up all the symbols in a complete deck of cards, there would be 365, the number of days in a year.

2. Court Card Characters Were Real Historical Figures

Most images used in modern packs of cards come from French playing card manufacturers from the 15th century. The French modeled the court card figures after influential historical leaders like Julius Caesar for the king of diamonds, and Charlemagne for the king of hearts. The Bible’s King David is believed to be the inspiration for the king of spades, while Alexander the Great was the face of the king of clubs.

While the queen of hearts oddly resembles Queen Elizabeth the first, the design predates her birth. The queen cards were inspired by ancient figures like the biblical Judith.

3. Casinos Use 100% Plastic Playing Cards

Most land-based casinos use 100% plastic playing cards to prevent cheating. These plastic cards are difficult to mark or crease, which makes it hard for players to track their movement in a game.

4. Vegas Casinos Can Change Decks Every Hour

Decks in a casino can only be used for up to 12 hours before they are switched. The length of time a deck will be used depends on how busy a table is and if the cards are shuffled by hand or machine. During peak hours, casinos can even switch decks after an hour. These constant switches are a way to prevent players from using marks, bends and cuffs to gain an advantage in a game.

If you’ve seen the phrase retiring or canceling a deck in a glossary of table game terms, this is when casinos will discard decks by clipping corners, marking or punching holes through cards so they can’t be reused in a game. Luckily, if you prefer online casino games, you don’t have to worry about hundreds of decks being discarded daily.

5. Playing Card Suits Used To Resemble Tarot Cards

The French were the first to divide the deck into its iconic red and black color scheme, and they also introduced the standard suits used today – clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. Before that, tarot cards inspired the Latin suits of old playing cards. These suits featured the cups, coins, swords and clubs seen in tarot cards.

6. British Playing Cards Followed the Ruling Monarch

British playing cards were the same as the popular French cards. However, there was one difference in the way cards were used. This was called the “British Rule.” Under this rule, the ranking of the king and queen cards would be swapped based on the monarch who sat on the throne at the time. That would mean during Queen Elizabeth’s historic 70-year reign, the queen card would have ranked higher than the king under this rule.

7. The Bicycle Card Company Used Playing Cards as a “Weapon” of War

There’s a reason the U.S. Bicycle card manufacturer is the most famous in the world. In two instances, they used playing cards to their advantage during war. During World War II, the card company worked with the U.S. government to create special decks that were kept secret to help American prisoners of war. The cards could be peeled apart when wet to reveal a map to help soldiers escape.

In the Vietnam War, the Bicycle company created special “death” decks that only had the ace of spades in them. Soldiers used these cards to intimidate Viet-Cong soldiers and civilians, as the cards were believed to be a terrible omen.

8. The World’s Oldest Known Deck of Cards Is in an NYC Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York is home to the world’s rarest, and reportedly the oldest, deck of playing cards. The intricately hand-painted tarot deck was traced back to the mid-15th century Netherlands. All of the cards are still in remarkable condition, suggesting that they were likely rarely used for actual gameplay.

In the 1970s, a collector purchased the cards for $2,800 and dedicated about five years to investigating the deck’s historical background before ultimately selling it to The Metropolitan Museum of Arts for a whopping $143,000 – the same price that the world’s most expensive deck of playing cards (The Luxury Deck made by Swiss jeweler and watchmaker, Shawish) was sold for.

Other decks of cards dating back several centuries can be found in various institutions, such as Yale University, which maintains its own card collection. A competing contender for the title of the world’s oldest and rarest deck of cards is the Mamluk pack housed at the Topkapı Museum in Istanbul.

9. There Are More Ways To Shuffle Cards Than There Are Atoms on Earth

This fun fact about playing cards is sure to impress your friends. There is an incredibly high number of ways you can shuffle a standard deck of 52 cards. In fact, there are said to be more ways to mix up a deck of cards than there are atoms on Earth. So, just how big is this number? Well, it’s 52 factorial, also written as “52!” This is like multiplying 52 by 51 by 50 and so on, all the way down to 1. This huge number is written as an 8, followed by about 67 digits: 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000.

Basically, with that many possible ways to shuffle a single pack of cards, even if you shuffled a new arrangement every second, non-stop, it would still take you millions of years to go through all of the possible arrangements. So, the next time you’re giving a deck of cards a good shuffle, take a moment to think about how special that arrangement is – chances are incredibly high that the order of those cards has never ever existed before and probably won’t ever exist again.

10. You Can Play Live Dealer Casino Games and Card Games on Your Phone

You don’t need to travel to a casino to play classic table games anymore. With BetMGM, you can enjoy a wide variety of casino card games on your phone. The most popular card games to play at the live dealer online casino include live blackjack, poker, craps and baccarat. BetMGM offers both popular and obscure variations to suit your playing style.

Play at a Casino Online on Your Mobile Devices With BetMGM

BetMGM has something for everyone, from classic card games and immersive online slots to great sports betting options. When you register, you get access to an extensive library that features thousands of themed slots and the biggest range of table games. Visit the website to join the King of Casinos and start playing your favorite casino games anytime and anywhere.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.