The History of the Most Popular Casino Games

min read
Roulette wheel and casino chips on a reflective surface.
BetMGM Nov 10, 2023, 6:32 AM

People have enjoyed gambling games for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and many of them are still being enjoyed by people in casinos all around the world and online. But which games have really stood the test of time, and what is their history? 

From blackjack to online roulette, take a look at three of the most popular casino games and briefly explore their past.


A close-up of a blackjack table with people playing.

Blackjack has been incredibly popular in casinos for many years. Like many other games on this list, it would be virtually impossible to find an offline or online casino that doesn’t offer its players this fantastic game.

However, it wasn’t always known as “blackjack.” While its exact origins are unknown, and historians still debate certain facts to this day (some experts argue the Romans played a very similar game,) it definitely has its roots in the card game known as Twenty-One. 

One of the earliest references to this particular game is found in the novel “Don Quixote,” by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, published in parts between 1605–1615. In this novel, Cervantes describes the rules of a game players recognize today as blackjack.

This gives credence to the idea that it had been around for at least two-and-a-half centuries longer than official records of the game, which appeared in France and Britain in the 1760s and 1780s. The game that was played in the mid-1700s was actually known as Vingt-Un, undoubtedly shortened from the French for twenty-one, vingt-et-un. 

Coming to America

Despite being popular in Europe around this period, it still took two decades for the card game to make it over to America. Depending on which sources you refer to, it’s possible that it took a century before it became known as blackjack. 

Whatever the game was named at the time, an article from NewsWatch TV, part of the AMC network, describes how this version of the game was slightly different from the modern game. For example, the dealer’s second card was made visible to all players.

Counting Cards

Moving ahead to the early 20th century, the legalization of gambling in Nevada in 1931 paved the way for casinos’ popularity to explode – and with them, that of blackjack. This surge brought with it the earliest card counters. 

Four US Army engineers — Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott — laid down the foundation for the card-counting community by releasing a book with their findings around 1956 or 1957. Their work would become the foundation for the groundbreaking title, Beat the Dealer by Edward O Thorp, which was published a few years later. 

The most recent and more popular group of card counters was a group of students and graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who employed sophisticated card counting techniques to beat casinos at blackjack. They utilized teamwork, strategic betting, and rigorous training to gain an edge. Their story was immortalized in the book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich as well as the Hollywood blockbuster “21.” 

Since then, many people have dedicated their time and energy to mastering the art of blackjack, winning big along the way, which has continued to be a hugely popular game in brick-and-mortar casinos as well as their digital counterparts.

Blackjack on Your Screen

Once established in the casino world, the natural progression was to go online. Players can enjoy the classic card game from the comfort of their homes, thanks to online casinos like BetMGM. 

The virtual platforms offer a variety of blackjack variations, including classic, European, and Vegas Strip. Advanced software ensures fair gameplay and random card distribution. Features such as customizable interfaces, live chat, and multiplayer options create an interactive experience. 

Many online casinos also provide the opportunity to play blackjack with live dealers, allowing players to engage in real-time action and interact with professional croupiers. Convenient payment methods and mobile compatibility further enhance the accessibility of online blackjack, making it a convenient and enjoyable choice for players worldwide.


A roulette ball sits on red, number 14 on the roulette wheel.

Few games are as iconic as roulette. Whether it’s the spinning wheel, the attention-grabbing sound of the ball being dropped in, or the anticipation of watching where it will come to rest, this game of chance has captured the attention of casino players around the world for more than three centuries.

While its exact origins are shrouded in mystery, the game is believed to derive from a design by French mathematician Blaise Pascal, who was trying to invent a perpetual-motion machine. Unfortunately, his design wouldn’t work as a perpetual-motion device, but it would help others go on to develop the earliest forms of roulette. 

While players may never know when roulette was invented, a work of fiction by Jacques Lablée — published around 1800 — describes a gambling game that matches the game’s description. 

Who Invented the Wheel?

When it comes to the roulette wheel itself, there are disagreements as to how it was originally designed. Some believe older European roulette wheels were originally more like the modern American wheel in that they had both a “0” and a “00” pocket. 

However, it’s believed that in 1843 two French brothers who operated a casino in Germany (gambling was banned in France at the time) — François and Louis Blanc — changed it to a single “0” to attract more players. 

Others believe the roulette wheel didn’t have any zeros at all and that this changed following a request by the Prince of Monaco at the time, Charles III, who built a casino and used gambling as a way to generate the funds his country needed at the time. 

Rolling Into the US

While roulette had a strong foothold in Europe in the 19th century, it was only around this time that gamblers in the US were being introduced to the game, albeit with a little twist: the wheel, which only had one zero in Europe acquired a “0” and “00” for American gamblers to contend with. Whether this was before the change made by the Blanc brothers in 1843 or after remains unknown.

Fast-forward to the modern casino era, and roulette tables are, of course, found in every casino across the planet. In fact, the game has become an established fixture in most gambling venues all over the world.

Going Online

Due to its immense popularity, it was only a matter of time before online casinos offered this game to players. The first time players got to enjoy online roulette via the internet was in 1996.

Online roulette has evolved significantly since then. Initially, basic versions of the game were introduced, featuring simple graphics and limited betting options. As technology progressed, online casinos started offering more immersive experiences with realistic graphics, enhanced audio, and smooth gameplay.

The introduction of live dealer roulette revolutionized the online experience. Players could now enjoy the thrill of a real casino from the comfort of their homes, interacting with professional dealers through high-definition video streaming. This bridged the gap between online and land-based casinos, providing an authentic gaming experience. 

While roulette may not grab the attention of gamblers the way it once did, this is one of the old casino games that has stood the test of time and is still enjoyed by thousands of players today.


A stylized rendering of three slot machines.

The legendary one-armed bandit (or slot machine) may have evolved over the years to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable, but there’s absolutely no doubt that this gambling machine has been entertaining people for decades and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The first time someone had the pleasure of playing on the precursor to slots was in the late 1800s. This device, called a poker machine, was developed by Sittman and Pitt and had five reels with playing card symbols. The aim of the game was to try and get a winning poker hand, after which you would be rewarded with a prize by the establishment that managed the machine.

Mills Liberty Bell

Around the same time, inventor Charles Fey came up with the very first slot machine or, as it was known at the time, the “Mills Liberty Bell.” This machine had three reels and used a combination of cards and other symbols, including horseshoes and (you’ve guessed it) a liberty bell. Players would put a coin in the slot to play (hence the name), and if they got a winning combination, the machine actually paid them on the spot — which saw the machine’s popularity explode. 

Unfortunately for Fey, he had not patented his device. Pretty soon, other companies were building their own machines based on his designs. However, a ban on gambling machines would soon follow as a result of gambling laws that came into effect, with manufacturers replacing cash prizes with sweets and other food items.

Slotting Into the US

Despite gambling only becoming legal in Nevada in the middle of the 20th century in the US — which led to the rise of Las Vegas as the casino center of the world — its growing potential was not lost on Bally Manufacturing Co, who invested time and money in developing the next step in the evolution of the slot machines: fully electromechanical slots. The first machine released by Bally way back in 1964 was a game called Money Honey.

While on the surface, it looked the same, the inclusion of the iconic arm to get the action going was a step forward in the sense that it was powered by electricity. This device also included automatic payouts, a new take on slots that proved a massive hit.

Video Killed the Mechanical Star

But technology, just like time, waits for no one. Just over a decade later, in 1976, Fortune Coin released the world’s first video slot. This device featured a 19-inch television screen instead of the traditional mechanical reels. Its arrival on the scene helped boost interest in slots. 

As the years rolled by, developers continued to add more features to their games, such as a second screen, buttons instead of levers, and more advanced bonus games, thanks to the transition to computerized slots.

Hit the Jackpot Online

The next big change for slots would come with the internet boom of the 1990s. Early online casinos didn’t at first offer slots, relying instead on games like blackjack to attract players. But it wasn’t long before developers figured out that slots would add to the list of exciting casino games online. 

While no one knows for certain which was the first online slot, there’s plausible speculation that it may have been one of the titles released by Microgaming in the mid-1990s, just as it got a head start on its competitors at the time.

Since then, online slots have flourished, as game developers were free from the restrictions of physical machines and could now experiment more creatively. Games soon had new mini-games, fresh bonus features, and even completely original reel structures for players to enjoy. With such variety, it was unsurprising to see online slots take over the online casino space in much the same way they did the brick-and-mortar casino floor.

Play These Popular Casino Games and More at BetMGM

Now that you’re done delving into the history of these games, it’s great to know that you can still enjoy all of them in the present, no matter where you are, with BetMGM.

BetMGM is an online casino that offers some of the best casino games, as well as many other fun and exciting options. Enjoy a wide range of casino table games like American Roulette, Casino Stud, and Perfect Blackjack Pro. Or go for a spin with the incredible range of online slots, including the likes of Scarab, Mercy of the Gods, and Raging Rhino Rampage. 

Register at BetMGM, one of the best online casinos, for access to all these online casino games, as well as other great gambling activities, including sports betting and online poker.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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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.