The History of 3 of the Most Popular Casino Games

min read
BetMGM Sep 16, 2021, 7:50 AM

People have enjoyed gambling games for decades, if not hundreds of years, and many of them are still being enjoyed by people in casinos around the world and online. But which games have stood the test of time, and what is their history? We take a look at three of the most popular casino games and briefly explore their past.

Blackjack

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

Blackjack is a card game that’s been incredibly popular in the casino space for many years, and just 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, this game wasn’t always known as “blackjack.” While its exact origins are unknown, and historians still debate certain facts to this day(some 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 fictional title, Don Quixote, written by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in the early 1600s. In the novel, the rules that we recognize today as blackjack are described, giving 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 appear in France and Britain between 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

Despite being popular in Europe around this period, it still took two decades for this popular card game to make it over to America. Depending on which sources you refer to, it’s possible it took a century before it became known by the name it has today, 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 (imagine that!).

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, 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 be the foundation for the groundbreaking title, Beat the Dealer by Edward O Thorp, which was published a few years later. 

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

Roulette

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 where it eventually comes 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 have been born from a French mathematician’s designs, 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 we may never know when roulette was born, a work of fiction by Jacques Lablée – published around 1800 – describes a gambling game that matches roulette’s description. 

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 is 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 draw more players to their roulette games. Others believe the roulette wheel didn’t have any zeros at all, but that this was 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 acquire the funds the country needed at the time. 

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 over in Europe, had a zero 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: the game has become an established fixture for many gambling venues. 

Due to its immense popularity, it was only a matter of time before digital casinos took this classic game and converted it for players to enjoy at their favorite online casino. The first time that players got to enjoy online roulette on the World Wide Web was in 1996.

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

Slots

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 is 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.

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, this machine actually paid them on the spot, which saw the machine’s popularity explode. 

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

Despite gambling only becoming legal in Nevada in the middle of the 20th century in the US, its growing potential was not lost on Bally Manufacturing Co, which invested time and money into developing the next step forward in slot machines: fully electromechanical slots. The first machine released by Bally was a game called Money Honey in 1964. While it looked the same on the surface, with the inclusion of the iconic arm to get the action going, it was a step forward in that it was powered by electricity. This device also included automatic payouts, and this new take on slots again proved a massive hit.

But technology, just like time, waits for no one, and 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, and its arrival on the scene helped boost interest in slots. As the years rolled by, developers would continue 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.

The next big change for slots would come with the internet boom of the 1990s. Many of the first online casinos didn’t offer slots at first, relying instead on games such as blackjack to draw in players, but it wasn’t long before developers figured out that slots would be a great addition to the online space. While no one knows for certain which was the first online slot, there’s speculation that it may have been one of the titles released by Microgaming in the mid-1990s, 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 wildly. 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 you’re done delving into the history of these games, it’s great to know that you can enjoy them in the present, no matter where you are, with BetMGM.

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

Sign up 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.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.