Gambling, betting money or valuables on the outcome of some future event that is more or less unpredictable. Gambling is at least as old as recorded history. Dice games were popular in ancient Rome, and loaded dice found among the ruins of Pompeii indicate that some, at least, were rigged. The Roman historian Tacitus tells of Romans and Germans gambling themselves into social disgrace, financial ruin, and slavery. At the height of the West African slave raids in the 18th century, there were instances of Africans gambling away their families and even themselves. In China, there are reasonably authenticated cases of people staking their limbs and hacking them off when they lost.
Today, U.S. legislation relating to gambling deals mainly with the penalties for illegal betting and the provision of revenue by means of taxation on legal betting. It has been estimated that about $50 billion is staked by gamblers in the United States each year. With this huge turnover and because of the high rate of taxation on most forms of gambling, illegal gambling is widespread. The criminal underworld is closely connected with most forms of gambling, and bribery and corruption of officials is common. In most courts, games of skill are distinguished from games of chance, the latter being illegal when played for money. This kind of legislation eliminates organized gambling clubs but permits friends to play games of skill for money. Unfortunately, it is not easy to determine the relative effects of chance and skill in most games. Betting on horses may be a skillful exercise for some, although most people talk of good or bad “luck.” In California, draw poker is considered a legal game of skill, whereas stud poker is regarded as an illegal game of chance. Horse racing is one of the most popular sports with gamblers. In many parts of the United States, the bettor can place bets with the parimutuel, a computer-operated pooling system. A proportion of the total money staked is retained, and the rest paid out to winning bettors. The payout on any horse depends on the total amount in the pool and the number of winning bettors. Bookmaking and off-track betting are illegal in the United States, except in Nevada and New York, although illegal facilities can be found in most states.