Gambling has existed in India for longer than history accounts. It is written about in the Ramayana which some Indians believe dates back the 7300’s BC, though this epic was first externally referenced in 430 BC. In the Ramayana both gambling boards, believed by some to be the game of chess, and gambling with dice are described. The board gambling is referred to as aksa where all other references refer to it as devana. If you’ve ever heard a gambler say “I lost my shirt” this saying originated in ancient India, as this ancient text compares trees stripped of their fruit as result Hanumat’s shaking, with defeated gamblers relived of their clothes and ornaments.
Whilst in the Ramayana, the attitude towards gambling is largely indifferent, mentioned casually and neither condoned, taboo nor forbidden, in India’s second most famous Sanskrit epic the tune greatly changes. In the Mahabharata (IPA: [məɦaːˈbʱaːrət̪ə]) the real negatives start to show. This particular epic is believed to date to 3200 BC, though some historians say it was likely written as late as 120 BC, or could have been 800 BC. In this story Shakuni arranged a dice game against Yudhishtira and cheated him out his wealth and kingdom. After losing all his wealth and then his kingdom, He eventually gambled his brothers, himself, and finally his wife into servitude. Later in a dispute where Duryodhana insisted there was no place for two crown princes, another dice game was ordered. Not much for luck, the Pandavas were required to go into exile for 12 years, and then remain hidden. So perhaps problem gambling was invented in India as well.
Early Gambling Devices
Looking to Buddhist text, Indians gambling with nuts of the vibhitaka tree as dice was described as early as 300 BC. Eventually the dice were replaced by astragali where the game Passa came about. In addition to dice Indians grew found of gambling on animals. Initially with ram fights, then cock fights, but in time progressed to enjoying the much more civil horse racing. Historical accounts show that Indians were known to gamble without concern that tomorrow might come, even though this was warned against and prohibited in Hindu hymns and script. An interesting fact is that whilst Europeans are generally given credit for the development of certain games, most the earlier version of playing cards and gambling devices discovered in Europe contained Indian symbols. Indians had as much of a roll as anyone creating and helping gambling boom.
By the 15th century when that boom was ripe, legal gambling houses sprung up across India. These were heavily regulated by local ordinance to ensure the games were fair and orderly. This wasn’t so much for the protection of the players, but was so the players would willingly submit their dues to the king. So once again, more historical evidence of something Indians started… this being gambling tax.
European Influence and Law
Whilst India had a major role in early gambling history, in time European influence took over. In 1720’s cricket started to catch on and late that century it was full force as the betting sport of choice. In the century that followed the British would bring major horse racing events to India. In 1864, a match between Madras v. Calcutta marked the start of first-class cricket in India. With gambling now rapidly out of control, the Public Gambling Act of 1867 was introduced; this act made operating a gambling house illegal. Over the years there have been some advancements and modifications, for example Paplu (rummy) was declared legal. But for the most part whilst the laws are strange and hard to follow gambling remains banned in India to this day.
Today the major gambling done in India is lottery, horse racing and Paplu (Rummy) all legal, whilst a black-market as large $60 billion per year exists for illegal sport betting. Most of this gambling is done in underground, yet many Indians have turned to gambling sites which operate outside of India, and are legal in their home country. For example, sites such as www.bet365.com allow players to deposit and withdrawal in rupees, whilst registered for an account with an Indian home address.
Future of Gambling
Gambling in India is for certain a huge market. With a population of 1.15 billion and a history of gambling in the country that dates back before history was even written the demand is certainly there. It is an interesting subject to follow. Our gut feeling is more legal gambling is coming to India soon; however, regardless if it does or does not come, the one thing that is for certain is – Indians are not going to stop gambling. The games of choice might evolve, history might be rewritten, but gambling in India will never go away. Here at Casino Online, whilst we love history, for now we’ll spend most of our time focusing on the future, and not the past! We encourage you to be responsible, if gambling distracts you then stop. All that’s important is that you live a good life. As the old Indian saying goes: “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.”
Yours in Luck,