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Random Riches - Thierry DEPAULIS

"Bingo! A material history of modern gaming"

In my paper I will show how gaming evolved between the 15th and the 20th centuries. The second half of the 14th century sees a significant shift in terms of games on offer: playing cards and lotteries both appeared on the scene as very innovative forms of gaming. In the 15th and 16th centuries diversification continues in the form of ‘small-scale’ lotteries, mostly table games on numbers like Auca or Biribissi, predecessors of Roulette. With the irresistible rise of playing cards in the 16th century some states took the opportunity of both controlling these ‘gambling instruments’ and raising revenues for their costly bureaucracies and armies. At this time, Italy became the hotspot of gambling with new games and new forms of betting (somewhat anticipating sports betting, though without sports). This drove political powers either to ban or to regulate gaming, very often alternating between the two. Over time lotteries, which were first organised and run by various bodies on a sporadic basis, became regulated; in Genoa, after decades of serious (but futile) prohibition, the Lotto was legalised in 1644, thus becoming the earliest lasting ‘State Lottery’. The ‘Gambler-State’ is mainly a Renaissance phenomenon.

The 18th century again shows a dramatic increase of gaming, with lotteries of all denominations and the dramatic multiplication of places where playing cards were manufactured. By contrast the 19th century appears as a kind of backlash, with many governments passing laws to either ban or seriously restrict gambling. At the end of the century only a few places allowed public gambling. Following the First World War and spurred by the Great Depression this changed, when many Western governments eager for revenues passed laws legalising lotteries, casinos, betting and other forms of gaming. With the exception of the Second World War, this tendency towards legalized gambling has continued until today.

Thierry DEPAULIS
is a historian and specialist in the history of games. He is the author of numerous articles and contributions, such as “A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot” (together with Ronald Decker and Sir Michael Dummett). In 2009, he sat in the scientific board of the Paris exhibition “Jeux des princes, jeux de vilains” (Bibliothèque nationale de France).