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Caravaggio, The Cardsharps (c. 1594), depicting card sharps Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) - The Cardsharps - Google Art Project.jpg
Caravaggio, The Cardsharps (c.1594), depicting card sharps

Gambling (also known as betting or gaming) is the wagering of something of value ("the stakes") on an event with an uncertain outcome with the intent of winning something else of value. Gambling thus requires three elements to be present: consideration (an amount wagered), risk (chance), and a prize. [1] The outcome of the wager is often immediate, such as a single roll of dice, a spin of a roulette wheel, or a horse crossing the finish line, but longer time frames are also common, allowing wagers on the outcome of a future sports contest or even an entire sports season.


The term "gaming" [2] in this context typically refers to instances in which the activity has been specifically permitted by law. The two words are not mutually exclusive; i.e., a "gaming" company offers (legal) "gambling" activities to the public [3] and may be regulated by one of many gaming control boards, for example, the Nevada Gaming Control Board. However, this distinction is not universally observed in the English-speaking world. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the regulator of gambling activities is called the Gambling Commission (not the Gaming Commission). [4] The word gaming is used more frequently since the rise of computer and video games to describe activities that do not necessarily involve wagering, especially online gaming, with the new usage still not having displaced the old usage as the primary definition in common dictionaries. "Gaming" has also been used to circumvent laws against "gambling". The media and others have used one term or the other to frame conversations around the subjects, resulting in a shift of perceptions among their audiences. [5]

Gambling is also a major international commercial activity, with the legal gambling market totaling an estimated $335 billion in 2009. [6] In other forms, gambling can be conducted with materials that have a value, but are not real money. For example, players of marbles games might wager marbles, and likewise games of Pogs or Magic: The Gathering can be played with the collectible game pieces (respectively, small discs and trading cards) as stakes, resulting in a meta-game regarding the value of a player's collection of pieces.


Gambling dates back to the Paleolithic period, before written history. In Mesopotamia the earliest six-sided dice date to about 3000 BCE. However, they were based on astragali dating back thousands of years earlier. In China, gambling houses were widespread in the first millennium BCE, and betting on fighting animals was common. Lotto games and dominoes (precursors of Pai Gow) appeared in China as early as the 10th century. [7]

Playing cards appeared in the 9th century CE in China. Records trace gambling in Japan back at least as far as the 14th century. [8]

Poker, the most popular U.S. card game associated with gambling, derives from the Persian game As-Nas, dating back to the 17th century. [9]

The first known casino, the Ridotto, started operating in 1638 in Venice, Italy. [10]

Great Britain

Gambling has been a main recreational activity in Great Britain for centuries. [11] Horseracing has been a favorite theme for over three centuries. [12] It has been heavily regulated. [13] Historically much of the opposition comes from evangelical Protestants, and from social reformers. [14] [15]

United States

Gambling has been a popular activity in the United States for centuries. [16] It has also been suppressed by law in many areas for almost as long. By the early 20th century, gambling was almost uniformly outlawed throughout the U.S. and thus became a largely illegal activity, helping to spur the growth of the mafia and other criminal organizations. [17] [18] The late 20th century saw a softening in attitudes towards gambling and a relaxation of laws against it.


Gamblers in the Ship of Fools, 1494 Gamblers in the Ship of Fools, 1494.jpg
Gamblers in the Ship of Fools, 1494
"Players and courtesans under a tent" by Cornelis de Vos Cornelis de Vos - Players and courtesans under a tent.jpg
"Players and courtesans under a tent" by Cornelis de Vos

Many jurisdictions, local as well as national, either ban gambling or heavily control it by licensing the vendors. Such regulation generally leads to gambling tourism and illegal gambling in the areas where it is not allowed. The involvement of governments, through regulation and taxation, has led to a close connection between many governments and gaming organizations, where legal gambling provides significant government revenue, such as in Monaco and Macau, China.

There is generally legislation requiring that gaming devices be statistically random, to prevent manufacturers from making some high-payoff results impossible. Since these high payoffs have very low probability, a house bias can quite easily be missed unless the devices are checked carefully. [19]

Most jurisdictions that allow gambling require participants to be above a certain age. In some jurisdictions, the gambling age differs depending on the type of gambling. For example, in many American states one must be over 21 to enter a casino, but may buy a lottery ticket after turning 18.[ citation needed ]


Because contracts of insurance have many features in common with wagers, insurance contracts are often distinguished in law as agreements in which either party has an interest in the "bet-upon" outcome beyond the specific financial terms. e.g.: a "bet" with an insurer on whether one's house will burn down is not gambling, but rather insurance – as the homeowner has an obvious interest in the continued existence of his/her home independent of the purely financial aspects of the "bet" (i.e. the insurance policy). Nonetheless, both insurance and gambling contracts are typically considered aleatory contracts under most legal systems, though they are subject to different types of regulation.

Asset recovery

Under common law, particularly English Law (English unjust enrichment), a gambling contract may not give a casino bona fide purchaser status, permitting the recovery of stolen funds in some situations. In Lipkin Gorman v Karpnale Ltd , where a solicitor used stolen funds to gamble at a casino, the House of Lords overruled the High Court's previous verdict, adjudicating that the casino return the stolen funds less those subject to any change of position defence. U.S. Law precedents are somewhat similar. [20] For case law on recovery of gambling losses where the loser had stolen the funds see "Rights of owner of stolen money as against one who won it in gambling transaction from thief". [21]

An interesting question is what happens when the person trying to make recovery is the gambler's spouse, and the money or property lost was either the spouse's, or was community property. This was a minor plot point in a Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Singing Skirt, and it cites an actual case Novo v. Hotel Del Rio. [22]

Religious views

Max Kaur and religious leaders, protest against gambling, Tallinn, Estonia Max Kaur and religious leaders, protest against gambling, Estonia, Tallinn, 2007.jpg
Max Kaur and religious leaders, protest against gambling, Tallinn, Estonia


Ancient Hindu poems like the Gambler's Lament and the Mahabharata testify to the popularity of gambling among ancient Indians. [ where? ] However, the text Arthashastra (c.4th century BCE) recommends taxation and control of gambling. [23]


Ancient Jewish authorities frowned on gambling, even disqualifying professional gamblers from testifying in court. [24]



The Catholic Church holds the position that there is no moral impediment to gambling, so long as it is fair, all bettors have a reasonable chance of winning, there is no fraud involved, and the parties involved do not have actual knowledge of the outcome of the bet (unless they have disclosed this knowledge), [25] and as long as the following conditions are met: the gambler can afford to lose the bet, and stops when the limit is reached, and the motivation is entertainment and not personal gain leading to the "love of money" [26] or making a living. [27] In general, Catholic bishops have opposed casino gambling on the grounds that it too often tempts people into problem gambling or addiction, and has particularly negative effects on poor people; they sometimes also cite secondary effects such as increases in loan sharking, prostitution, corruption, and general public immorality. [28] [29] [30] Some parish pastors have also opposed casinos for the additional reason that they would take customers away from church bingo and annual festivals where games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, and poker are used for fundraising. [31] St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that gambling should be especially forbidden where the losing bettor is underage or otherwise not able to consent to the transaction. [32] Gambling has often been seen as having social consequences, as satirized by Balzac. For these social and religious reasons, most legal jurisdictions limit gambling, as advocated by Pascal. [33]


Gambling views among Protestants vary, with some either discouraging or forbidding their members from participation in gambling. Methodists, in accordance with the doctrine of outward holiness, oppose gambling which they believe is a sin that feeds on greed. Other denominations that discourage gambling are the United Methodist Church, [34] the Free Methodist Church, [35] the Evangelical Wesleyan Church, [36] the Salvation Army, [37] and the Church of the Nazarene. [38]

Other Protestants that oppose gambling include Mennonites, Schwarzenau Brethren, [39] Quakers, [40] the Christian Reformed Church in North America, [41] the Church of the Lutheran Confession, [42] the Southern Baptist Convention, [43] the Assemblies of God, [44] and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. [45]

Other Christian denominations

Other churches that oppose gambling include the Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, [46] the Iglesia ni Cristo, [47] and the Members Church of God International.


There is a consensus among the Ulema (Arabic : عُـلـمـاء, Scholars (of Islam)) that gambling is haraam (Arabic : حَـرام, sinful or forbidden). In assertions made during its prohibition, Muslim jurists describe gambling as being both un-Qur’anic, and as being generally harmful to the Muslim Ummah (Arabic : أُمَّـة, Community). The Arabic terminology for gambling is Maisir . [48]

They ask you about intoxicants and gambling. Say: 'In them both lies grave sin, though some benefit, to mankind. But their sin is more grave than their benefit.'

In parts of the world that implement full Shari‘ah, such as Aceh, punishments for Muslim gamblers can range up to 12 lashes or a one-year prison term and a fine for those who provide a venue for such practises. [49] Some Islamic nations prohibit gambling; most other countries regulate it. [50]

Bahá'í Faith

According to the Most Holy Book, paragraph 155, gambling is forbidden.


Casino games

While almost any game can be played for money, and any game typically played for money can also be played just for fun, some games are generally offered in a casino setting.

Table games

The Caesars Palace main fountain. The statue is a copy of the ancient Winged Victory of Samothrace. Caesars palace night 2007.jpg
The Caesars Palace main fountain. The statue is a copy of the ancient Winged Victory of Samothrace .
A pachinko parlor in Tokyo, Japan Pachinko parlor dsc04790.jpg
A pachinko parlor in Tokyo, Japan
Mahjong tiles. Ordinary mahjong.jpg
Mahjong tiles.

Electronic gaming

RAY's Ruusu and Tuplapotti slot machines in Finland RAY Ruusu and Tuplapotti.JPG
RAY's Ruusu and Tuplapotti slot machines in Finland

Other gambling

Non-casino games

Gambling games that take place outside of casinos include bingo (as played in the US and UK), dead pool, lotteries, pull-tab games and scratchcards, and Mahjong.

Other non-casino gambling games include:

*Although coin tossing is not usually played in a casino, it has been known to be an official gambling game in some Australian casinos [52]

Fixed-odds betting

Fixed-odds betting and Parimutuel betting frequently occur at many types of sporting events, and political elections. In addition many bookmakers offer fixed odds on a number of non-sports related outcomes, for example the direction and extent of movement of various financial indices, the winner of television competitions such as Big Brother , and election results. [53] Interactive prediction markets also offer trading on these outcomes, with "shares" of results trading on an open market.

Parimutuel betting

One of the most widespread forms of gambling involves betting on horse or greyhound racing. Wagering may take place through parimutuel pools, or bookmakers may take bets personally. Parimutuel wagers pay off at prices determined by support in the wagering pools, while bookmakers pay off either at the odds offered at the time of accepting the bet; or at the median odds offered by track bookmakers at the time the race started.

Sports betting

Tokyo Racecourse in Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo Racecourse 3.jpg
Tokyo Racecourse in Tokyo, Japan.

Betting on team sports has become an important service industry in many countries. Before the advent of the internet, millions of people played the football pools every week in the United Kingdom. In addition to organized sports betting, both legal and illegal, there are many side-betting games played by casual groups of spectators, such as NCAA basketball tournament Bracket Pools, Super Bowl Squares, Fantasy Sports Leagues with monetary entry fees and winnings, and in-person spectator games like Moundball.

Virtual sports

Based on Sports Betting, Virtual Sports are fantasy and never played sports events made by software that can be played every time without wondering about external things like weather conditions.

Arbitrage betting

Arbitrage betting is a theoretically risk-free betting system in which every outcome of an event is bet upon so that a known profit will be made by the bettor upon completion of the event regardless of the outcome. Arbitrage betting is a combination of the ancient art of arbitrage trading and gambling, which has been made possible by the large numbers of bookmakers in the marketplace, creating occasional opportunities for arbitrage.

Other types of betting

One can also bet with another person that a statement is true or false, or that a specified event will happen (a "back bet") or will not happen (a "lay bet") within a specified time. This occurs in particular when two people have opposing but strongly held views on truth or events. Not only do the parties hope to gain from the bet, they place the bet also to demonstrate their certainty about the issue. Some means of determining the issue at stake must exist. Sometimes the amount bet remains nominal, demonstrating the outcome as one of principle rather than of financial importance.

Betting exchanges allow consumers to both back and lay at odds of their choice. Similar in some ways to a stock exchange, a bettor may want to back a horse (hoping it will win) or lay a horse (hoping it will lose, effectively acting as bookmaker).

Spread betting allows gamblers to wagering on the outcome of an event where the pay-off is based on the accuracy of the wager, rather than a simple "win or lose" outcome. For example, a wager can be based on the when a point is scored in the game in minutes and each minute away from the prediction increases or reduces the payout.

Staking systems

Many betting systems have been created in an attempt to "beat the house" but no system can make a mathematically unprofitable bet in terms of expected value profitable over time. Widely used systems include:

Other uses of the term

Gloria Mundi, or The Devil addressing the sun, a cartoon showing the British politician Charles James Fox standing on a roulette wheel perched atop a globe showing England and continental Europe. The implication is that his penniless state, indicated by turned-out pockets, is due to gambling. Gloria Mundi, or The Devil addressing the sun - Pare. Lost, Book IV LCCN2001695204.jpg
Gloria Mundi, or The Devil addressing the sun, a cartoon showing the British politician Charles James Fox standing on a roulette wheel perched atop a globe showing England and continental Europe. The implication is that his penniless state, indicated by turned-out pockets, is due to gambling.

Many risk-return choices are sometimes referred to colloquially as "gambling." [54] Whether this terminology is acceptable is a matter of debate:

Investments are also usually not considered gambling, although some investments can involve significant risk. Examples of investments include stocks, bonds and real estate. Starting a business can also be considered a form of investment. Investments are generally not considered gambling when they meet the following criteria:

Some speculative investment activities are particularly risky, but are sometimes perceived to be different from gambling:

Negative consequences

Studies show that though many people participate in gambling as a form of recreation or to earn an income, gambling, like any behavior involving variation in brain chemistry, can become a behavioral addiction. Behavioral addiction can occur with all the negative consequences in a person's life minus the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse. [55]

Problem gambling has multiple symptoms. Gamblers often gamble to try to win back money they have lost, and some gamble to relieve feelings of helplessness and anxiety. [56]

In the United Kingdom, the Advertising Standards Authority has censured several betting firms for advertisements disguised as news articles suggesting falsely that a person had cleared debts and paid for medical expenses by gambling online . The firms face possible fines. [57]

A 2020 study of 32 countries found that the greater the amount of gambling activity in a given country, the more volatile that country's stock market prices are. [58]

Psychological biases

Gamblers may exhibit a number of cognitive and motivational biases that distort the perceived odds of events and that influence their preferences for gambles.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Casino game</span> Types of casino games

Games available in most casinos are commonly called casino games. In a casino game, the players gamble cash or casino chips on various possible random outcomes or combinations of outcomes. Casino games are also available in online casinos, where permitted by law. Casino games can also be played outside casino for entertainment purposes like in parties or in school competitions, some on machines that simulate gambling.

Spread betting is any of various types of wagering on the outcome of an event where the pay-off is based on the accuracy of the wager, rather than a simple "win or lose" outcome, such as fixed-odds betting or parimutuel betting.

Fixed-odds betting is a form of wagering against odds offered by a bookmaker or an individual or on a bet exchange. It involves betting on an event in which there is no fluctuation on the payout. In Australia, the practice is usually known as "SP betting".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bookmaker</span> Organization or person that takes bets on sporting events

A bookmaker, bookie, or turf accountant is an organization or a person that accepts and pays off bets on sporting and other events at agreed-upon odds.

Odds provide a measure of the likelihood of a particular outcome. They are calculated as the ratio of the number of events that produce that outcome to the number that do not. Odds are commonly used in gambling and statistics.

Vigorish is the fee charged by a bookmaker for accepting a gambler's wager. In American English, it can also refer to the interest owed a loanshark in consideration for credit. The term came to English usage via Yiddish slang, which was itself a loanword from Ukrainian or Russian.

Sport Select is a group of sports betting games offered by Canada's lottery corporations. In Quebec, the program is known as Pari sportif; in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, it is known as Pro-Line while in British Columbia, it is known as Sports Action. However, the rules for the games are similar in all provinces. Initially created to offer betting primarily on the North American major professional sports leagues, Sport Select has expanded to offer betting on competitions such as the English Premier League and college sports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sports betting</span> Form of gambling

Sports betting is the activity of predicting sports results and placing a wager on the outcome. The frequency of sports bet upon varies by culture, with the vast majority of bets being placed on association football, American football, basketball, baseball, hockey, track cycling, auto racing, mixed martial arts, and boxing at both the amateur and professional levels. Sports betting can also extend to non-athletic events, such as reality show contests and political elections, and non-human contests such as horse racing, greyhound racing, and cockfighting. It is not uncommon for sports betting websites to offer wagers for entertainment events such as the Grammy Awards, the Oscars, and the Emmy Awards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fan-Tan</span>

Fan-Tan, or fantan is a gambling game long played in China. It is a game of pure chance which has similarities to roulette.

An over–under or over/under (O/U) bet is a wager in which a sportsbook will predict a number for a statistic in a given game, and bettors wager that the actual number in the game will be either higher or lower than that number. For example, in Super Bowl XXXIX, most Las Vegas casinos set the over–under for the score of the game at 46.0. A bettor could wager that the combined score of the two teams would be either more than or less than that number. Since the combined score of that game was 45, anyone who had bet on "under" won. The bet is called a push if the actual number exactly equals the over-under, in which case all bets are refunded.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sportsbook</span> Sports gambling establishment

In the United States, a sportsbook or a race and sports book is a place where a gambler can wager on various sports competitions, including golf, football, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, horse racing, greyhound racing, boxing, and mixed martial arts. The method of betting varies with the sport and the type of game. In the US, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 allowed only Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware to legally wager on sports other than horse racing, greyhound racing, and jai alai; the law was ruled unconstitutional on May 14, 2018, freeing states to legalize sports betting at their discretion.

Betting arbitrage is an example of arbitrage arising on betting markets due to either bookmakers' differing opinions on event outcomes or errors. When conditions allow, by placing one bet per each outcome with different betting companies, the bettor can make a profit regardless of the outcome. Mathematically, arbitrage occurs when there are a set of odds, which represent all mutually exclusive outcomes that cover all state space possibilities of an event, whose implied probabilities add up to less than 1. In the bettors' slang an arbitrage is often referred to as an arb; people who take advantage of these arbitrage opportunities are called arbers.

Gambling in the United Kingdom is regulated by the Gambling Commission on behalf of the government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) under the Gambling Act 2005. This Act of Parliament significantly updated the UK's gambling laws, including the introduction of a new structure of protections for children and vulnerable adults, as well as bringing the burgeoning Internet gaming sector within British regulation for the first time.

Asian handicap betting is a form of betting on football in which teams are handicapped according to their form so that a stronger team must win by more goals for a bet on them to win. The system originated in Indonesia and has gained popularity in the early 21st century. It is a form of spread betting. Handicaps typically range from one-quarter goal to several goals, in increments of half- or even quarter-goals.

A tipster is someone who regularly provides information (tips) on the likely outcomes of sporting events on internet sites or special betting places.

Even money is a wagering proposition with even odds - the bettor stands to lose or win the same amount of money. Beyond gambling, even money can mean an event whose occurrence is about as likely to occur as not. Even money is also known as 50–50.

Advantage gambling, or advantage play, refers to legal methods used to gain an advantage while gambling, in contrast to cheating. The term usually refers to house-banked casino games, but can also refer to games played against other players, such as poker. Someone who practises advantage gambling is often referred to as an advantage player, or AP. Unlike cheating, which is by definition illegal, advantage play exploits innate characteristics of a particular game to give the player an advantage relative to the house or other players. While not illegal, advantage play is often discouraged and some advantage players may be banned by certain casinos.

Sport industry is an industry in which people, activities, business, and organizations are involved in producing, facilitating, promoting, or organizing any activity, experience, or business enterprise focused on sports. It is the market in which the businesses or products offered to its buyers are sports related and may be goods, services, people, places, or ideas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gambling on papal elections</span>

Gambling on papal elections has at least a 500-year history. Betting on 16th-century papal conclaves are among the first documented examples of gambling on election outcomes. During the same period, gambling was also common on the outcomes of secular Italian elections, such as that of the Doge of Venice.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Betting on horse racing</span>

Betting on horse racing or horse betting commonly occurs at many horse races. Modern horse betting started in Great Britain in the early 1600s during the reign of King James I. Gamblers can stake money on the final placement of the horses taking part in a race. Gambling on horses is, however, prohibited at some racetracks. For example, because of a law passed in 1951, betting is illegal in Springdale Race Course, home of the nationally renowned Toronto-Dominion Bank Carolina Cup and Colonial Cup Steeplechase in Camden, South Carolina.


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Further reading