While some may think that gambling is a recent phenomenon, it actually dates back to antiquity. Dice have been recovered from Egyptian tombs, while the Chinese, Japanese, Greeks and Romans all were known to play games of skill and chance for amusement as early as 2300 B.C.
Both Native Americans and European colonists brought a history of gambling from their own cultures that helped shape America’s views and practices. Native Americans developed games and language describing gambling and believed that their gods determined fate and chance. In 1643, explorer Roger Williams wrote about the games of chance developed by the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island.
British colonization of America was partly financed through lottery proceeds, beginning in the early 17th century. Because lotteries were viewed as a popular form of voluntary taxation in England during the Georgian era, they also became popular in America as European settlers arrived here. A half-dozen lotteries sponsored by prominent individuals such as Ben Franklin, John Hancock and George Washington operated in each of the 13 colonies to raise funds for building projects. Between 1765 and 1806, Massachusetts authorized lotteries to help build dormitories and supply equipment for Harvard College; many other institutions of higher learning, including Dartmouth, Yale and Columbia, also were financed through lotteries. A lottery even was approved to finance the American Revolution.
Sources: Mike Roberts, “The National Gambling Debate: Two Defining Issues,” Whittier Law Review, vol. 8, no. 3, 1997; Scarne’s New Complete Guide to Gambling; Encarta Online Encyclopedia