Betting is almost as old as the hills; certainly it is as old as civilisation. Evidence of betting has been found with all the ancient civilisations including Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and Roman.
Undoubtedly betting has its origins in religious rituals, the purpose of which was essentially to predict the future. The early rituals consisted of casting runes such as pebbles or sticks an interpreting the resulting pattern. In order to influence the patterns participants would ‘sacrifice’ items of value. This process organically evolved into placing bets on the outcomes, and enjoying the spoils should the required outcomes occur. This form of gambling was used to divide up food, land and artefacts; it was even used to settle disputes. Gambling became part of mythology, and it was believed that even the Gods gambled to divide up the earth and the heavens.
Some of the early gambling objects were dice and cards and many examples have been found in archaeological sites dating back 9,000 years or so.
It was not long before sports betting became very popular. It is easy to envisage the Romans betting on chariot races and the outcomes of tournaments and competitions. There is evidence of cockfighting dating back 7,000 years, and it appears to have been a very popular pastime.
Although gambling was a major pastime of the leaders of the Roman Empire, some of whom wagered huge sums of money and even lands, betting was not considered to be a suitable activity for the peasants and so it was strongly, though unsuccessfully, regulated. In fact everywhere that gambling arose there were attempts to curtail it, often with severe penalties for those who were caught doing so.
No doubt there was also a market for early bookmakers and tipsters though the latter were certainly not as reliable as modern ones such as