A Portrait of Noble Gambling: Games & Players

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High society game culture is a huge part of gambling glamour. Let’s get a real feel of what we loved most about casinos through history until today.

Gambling and society: when did it start?

Gambling and Society start

The very first one of us was a gambler, according to cave drawings of early games.

From gods to pennies, gambling touches our lives in ways we rarely imagine.

Fun fact:

  1. Archeologists discovered the ancestors of our modern-day dice, objects carved from animal ankle bone dating 40,000 years ago.
  2. Ivory dice as old as 1500 BC appeared in Thebes, and around 2300 BC, the Chinese were using tiles to test their luck.

The games were not always fair

According to findings in the ruins in Pompeii, our ancestors cast pairs of dice, some of them loaded. This isn’t merely evidence of gambling but of strategic foul play.

Gambling was, to many high-status Romans, a significant portion of their lifestyle.

For instance, Claudius of Rome redesigned his carriage to accommodate throwing dice. When the Roman Empire was peaking, its laws stated that Roman children had to know how to wager and throw dice.

Addiction, too, was born at the same time as gambling. Caligula used to get into so much gambling debt that he confiscated the properties of his knights. On the same note, Greek soldiers were illegally throwing dice around 1200 BC.

How about the East?

Fun fact

Researchers discovered many ancient gambling symbols and artifacts in Japan and India as well.

Fun fact: The Big Bang equivalent for some of our ancestors was a throw of dice. Some Greeks suspected Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon to have played when the Universe formed heaven, hell and the sea.

The Native Americans of the New World believed that games of chance had been invented and given to humanity by the gods themselves. No wonder they played dice with white or black-painted plum stones.

Much later, General Washington bought the first federal lottery ticket in 1793. Lotteries supported the army during the Revolutionary War, sponsored district improvements, and raised funds for the society.

Early Canadian society: the first games

One of the very first recorded games of chance on Canadian land is Slahal. Its rules are quite rudimentary:

  • Native tribes traditionally used the shin-bones of deer;
  • There are two bones in play and two participating teams;
  • The teams took turns in taking and swapping bones while they sang to distract the others;
  • At the end of the song, the opposing team had to guess where the bones were;
  • The tally is kept with sticks. Hence this activity was called a stick-game. Other names included hand-game or bone-game.

Why did Native tribes play?

Gambling had a spiritual meaning to aboriginal populations and was deeply embedded in the community. For instance, many native tribes used games of chance to foresee harvests or help their sick, dear ones.

Gambling and native peoples now

The positive outlook on gambling carried on by indigenous nations is noticeable in Canadian and North American recent history. Many of the First Nations in North America have even managed to buy back their ancestral land with gaming profits.

For instance, the Kahnawake Commission became a successful gambling authority after 1999.

However, early Europeans who landed in what was going to become Canada instilled a conservative attitude towards chance games and other kinds of wagering:

This negative outlook on gambling, cumulated with a high society fragmented by its respective colonist influences, wasn’t the best environment for casino games to flourish as they did later on.

Some popular European chance games made way to Canada, however.

In June 1497, John Cabot brought whist and other European card games on the Canadian East Coast.  Card games were discreet games involving strategy, and folks could well play them with no stakes at all.

Other European games that gained approval in early Canada also appealed to the intellect rather than luck and pomp, like horse racing.

Fun fact: The very first Canadian gambling event that happened was horse racing. It took place only 253 years ago, in Quebec City.

What was Canadian high society?

The mix between Aboriginal and European societies happened after the late 15th century waves of colonists.

When settlers claimed Canadian territory, both the British and the French had a definite class hierarchy and strict social and religious norms imposed on the more lenient and sympathetic aboriginal groups.

It’s not that difficult to imagine that high society in Canada resembled their imperialist counterparts.

  • French Canadian officers or important officials were rooted in the French nobility and quickly became promoted to senior peerage ranks.
  • British hereditary titles like the Baronetage of Nova Scotia and other peerages related to Canada were first awarded to British governors and generals for their hand in settling the colonies.

Later, these titles were bestowed on Canadian politicians, commanders and businesspeople, structuring a truly Canadian upper class.  

A unique blend of European influences, colonist and native cultural heritage shaped Canadian high-society and its unique taste in gambling.

Fun and games in British high society

Fun and Games in British high society

In the more educated circles, strategy trumped luck-based games. Card games were all the rage in British high society, and whist topped them all.

Because it required some skill and memory, people often played whist just for fun.

Fun fact: Interesting depictions of whist are the 1783 “The Card Party” and the satirical print “Whist” by George Hunt. Both show elegant décor and dress, while players are serene and focused, without much interaction.

Luck-based games were more challenging to control, and the stakes made them truly interesting. These were the more dangerous activities and brought about the most ruin.

For example: Faro was one of the most attractive games. All you needed was a full deck of regular cards and a designated “banker,” or what we would call today the “house”. There were no maximum or minimum limits to the number of participants.

Each participant procured his checks (or chips) from the banker, who also set the wagers’ values and limits.

Other favourites were basset, hazard, and ace of hearts. When the gaming act of 1739 banned them all, other beloved and hazardous luck-based games appeared, like Roly-Poly and Evens and Odds.

The aristocratic gambling code

The first principles of gambling amongst British high society were wealth and honour. With enough money and grace, you’d be a winner even when you lost.

The romantic hallways of a sumptuous gaming club, where men float on cigar smoke, and women flush behind their feathery fans, is anything but a myth.

Expensive and exclusivist clubs were all the rage in the 18th and 19th centuries, as places of business, politics, economy, and pleasure. However, plenty of established gentlemen and heirs lost both their principles in such a place.

Top locations in 18th century London included:

  • The Cocoa Tree;
  • White’s;
  • Almack’s;
  • Brooks’s.

These gathered significant men of politics, military, and great fortunes, like Horace Walpole or the Duke of Wellington.

Fun fact: Horace Walpole made an infamous bet at White’s that a man could survive longer than 12 hours underwater. Other notorious bets made at White’s included revered names betting on war outcomes and other severe political and social matters.

Since gambling was both a measure of a man’s resources and a test of his virtue, memberships to these exclusive clubs entailed a set of definite rules.

For example: One of the most important guielines was integrity. Whether a man lost or won, dignity and calm had to prevail, and parts settled debts on a man-to-man basis. Clubs kicked members out if they ever took any other member to court to resolve an obligation instead of sorting out the issue among their club peers.

However, not everything was prime and proper play.

Club members ate, drank, consumed opioids, duelled, and practiced many other behaviours that society frowned upon at the time.

The social, economic, and hedonistic benefits of the “golden hells” persisted until the late nineteenth century’s financial and social revolutions led to the clubs’ institutionalization.   

What was the French court’s favourite game?

Aristocratic French society also revered cards. This time, it was the Spanish game, Ombre, that made everyone wager their jewelry.

Ombre was an ancestor of whist and bridge and stood for “Yo soy el hombre,” meaning “I am the man”.

The name expressed exactly how French aristocracy played:

Hombre was stored in a porcelain box, sprinkled with precious stones and gold, on which reigned the Queen of Hearts and the Jack of Diamonds.

The checks, or chips, were also porcelain or “white gold”, as the fashion in high circles called it. Every chip imitated the French coin “Louis” and had a different name according to its value.

Hombre also involved a deck of 40 cards bearing portraits of French kings, on which men in high wigs and ladies alike would bet and score exorbitant amounts. Essentially, hombre was a game of trumps.

Fun fact: A famous French anecdote tells that the help of a cook working for a wealthy Parisian family in the 1700s gained his fortune and freedom at their gambling table one night.

Runner-up to French gambling favourites

Besides game cards, lotteries occupied the second most popular pastime in the world of aristocratic French players.

Just as the British, French gamblers packed up fastidious gaming houses and salons and adhered to wealth and integrity’s strict etiquette. One gambled to show off class and fortune and acquitted losses uncomplainingly before paying the debts owed to everyday life, like servants or milkmen.

However, cheating was a prevalent and mostly disregarded practice at the French court and French gentry.

Fun fact: Did you know that gambling in high-society France was a means of education? Children were taught math by keeping the tally, reading dice and counting cards. This habit has not entirely disappeared. Card counting, an extremely frowned-upon cheating technique, gave birth to the probability theory.

A day that started with fresh fruit and pastries ended between eleven at night to midnight, with a regular gambling session.

High-class underdogs: who afforded to gamble?

The upper class had the most fruitful context to gamble, not just because of their special funds but also their social influence.

In both British and French lines and later in Canada, legislation around gambling suffered many changes.

So, it stands to reason that in such a context of legal uncertainty, high society’s influence and status would aid them to evade instant legal repercussions much easier than the middle and lower classes.

Gambling was renowned as an aristocratic non-sense, especially in the famous plays and works of the time. However, playwrights only survived under the patronage of the upper class and could rarely have any influence.

High society usually practiced the “deep play” style of gambling, a relative equivalent of today’s high-roller bets, only less regulated. It was typical that many of the members of the upper classes quickly lost their family fortunes.

In contrast, the middle classes only practiced moderate and recreational play, limiting their stakes. They also enjoyed the perks derived from racing.

Horse racing maintained its popularity from Tudor times until the late 1990s and funded many countries in war times. It supported periodic newspapers and magazines and created endless job opportunities, as breeding experts, jockeys, and grooms were always necessary.

Today’s high society: what we like

Today's High Society online gambling

Online gambling is the latest trend, with cryptocurrencies, user-friendly interfaces, reliable transactions, mobile quality, and great match bonuses.

Today, social classes are not as prevalent as they used to be.

Depending on each casino’s VIP program, the trade still operates on the principle that the largest investors receive the best benefits, which keeps high rollers in “deep play”.

Not all players have the same style of play.

We do extensive, hands-on research every day to create pages that guide you towards the best gambling platforms on the market, tackling all the present needs and the different gameplay of Canadian users.

While there aren’t significant differences between the tastes of high-rolling bettors and other gamblers in terms of game types, here’s a list of the most popular categories among keen players:

Slots

Our team rolled their sleeves and checked the best free spins bonuses available in 2021 so that our readers can enjoy their favourite games and win at the same time. There’s a higher chance of winning at high roller slots and leaving the game session with a substantial amount without needing to hit the jackpot. However, many players also enjoy slots because of the many free rounds incentives offered by online casinos.

Baccarat

An emblematic James Bond favourite, Baccarat is elegant and straightforward. Simply bet on the odds that a specific player at the table, or the banker, is holding the card closer to nine. The stars amongst high rolling Baccarat players are Baccarat Banque, Chemin de Far and Punto Banco.

Poker

An obvious choice for its potential of high betting and winning, as well as for its enormous jackpots, Poker requires both skill and luck, as well as being a natural with undetectable bluffing.

Roulette

Roulette The Little Wheel

First recorded in France 300 years ago, the “little wheel” comes in two main variations, French and American. The two propose different numbers, as American roulette displays 38 numbers and two zeros, while French roulette shows 37 numbers.

To conclude and remember

An obvious conclusion is that high society game preferences throughout history shaped the activities of casinos nowadays.

Horse races have turned into car races, and the sports betting industry is flourishing by the day. It’s no surprise that most high rollers enjoy gambling that involves equal shares of ability and chance.

However, luck remains the ultimate thrill, as slots are appreciated worldwide.

Fabulous gambling resorts and game clubs have become luxurious casinos or have translated into exceptional user-experience on the online and mobile gambling platforms.

As before, gambling remains an occasion to show off betting resources. The legislation surrounding the industry ensures that both providers and players settle their debts to each other in a code of honour.

Gamble safely always!

Consulted sources

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