The Long and Storied History of Gambling in India

Gambling has existed since time immemorial. Even the most ancient peoples were known to indulge, with records of the activity dating back millennia. India specifically has a rich and fascinating history, which goes all the way back to the time of the Ramayana.

Today, it is no different, as gambling is still widely enjoyed throughout the country. However, the modern incarnation of this favourite entertainment is now vastly different to what went before.

We take a look at the history of gambling in India, from its ancient beginnings to its current form.

Gambling in Ancient India

Today, gambling is enjoyed across the Indian continent. While card games and dice play remain popular, much of what happens takes place on the internet. Those in search of enjoyment may decide to indulge in blackjack online at Betfair, for example, where there are several versions and the option to play live. To those living in the ancient world, this would have been unimaginable. The thought of such entertainment being readily available at one’s fingertips would likely have seemed fantastical, although the concept of games of chance would have been familiar.

That’s because the earliest mention of gambling in ancient India is found in the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic believed to date back to 7,300 BC. This includes references not only to an archaic form of chess but also to games involving dice.  

A second epic, the Mahabharata, also alludes to gambling, detailing a dice game involving a king, Yudhishthira, which sees the monarch cheated out of his wealth and exalted position.  

The History of Animal Sports and Games of Chance

As well as the archaic references to gambling in these two epics, there are also ancient Buddhist texts which detail gaming within the country. Suggesting that Indians of the period may have gambled with nuts as early as 300 BC, these tell us that betting on animal sports was common too. Both ram and cockfights went through periods of being popular, and horse racing would emerge a little later.

What’s interesting about these archaic forms of gambling is their origins. While many assume that gambling – and particularly games of chance – originated in Europe, early paraphernalia suggests otherwise, with much of this displaying Indian writing and/or symbols.  

Fair play and good sportsmanship

As the centuries progressed, gambling in India remained popular but became increasingly more sophisticated. Great efforts were made to ensure fair play, particularly after a slew of gambling houses popped up in the 15th century.

Legal and properly regulated, these were fiercely policed to ensure that the rules were abided by. Players were also taxed on any winnings they made, with this money going directly to the king.   

By the 18th century, cricket had gained a foothold too, coming ashore with the British. The Indian love of the sport began here, enduring to the modern-day. However, the earliest incarnations of it saw a flurry of betting activity taking place off the pitch. This was outlawed under the Gambling Act of 1867.

Modern-day Gambling in India

While gambling in India may not be as widespread today as it once was, it very much still exists. In certain areas, gambling remains exceptionally popular, with 40 percent of internet users in India stating they have or continue to play casino games online which is reflective of the same trend globally. This huge audience has ensured that more and more providers are thus making their offerings accessible in the country. For those who enjoy the activity, this means there is plenty of fun to be had online.

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