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The game of blackjack was first brought to America from France in the early 19th century. It was called Vingt-et-un or Twenty-one at that time. The payout wasn’t as good in those days. As a result, the casinos had to offer bonuses to get people interested. One of the bonuses offered was a 10 to 1 payout for a winning hand of an Ace of Spades and any black Jack (the Jack of Clubs or the Jack of Spades). Even though casinos no longer offer this bonus, this is the origin of the name that still holds today… Blackjack.
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Variations in blackjack card game rules as it was played in America involved 2 changes: 1) being able to see one of the dealer’s cards and 2) a requirement for the dealer to follow a specific strategy to hit or stand that was known to the players. Typically, a dealer total of 16 or less meant a hit and any dealer total of 17 or more meant they would stand.
These 2 changes made the game of blackjack much more popular because they reduced the advantage enjoyed by the dealer.
The popularity of Blackjack was completely tied to the trends and movements that concerned the legalization of gambling in gaming establishments and casinos.
The history of gambling in America began before the establishment of the United States.
In the early days of the colonies, there were 2 groups of people. The puritans in New England and Pennsylvania came to this country for religious reasons and were deeply opposed to all forms of gambling. The other group adopted attitudes from England which considered it to be a gentleman’s sport and was seen to be a harmless diversion. Throughout this early period, lotteries were a means of raising the money needed for some of the earliest colonies. This was an accepted form of gambling that was considered not only to be legal but somewhat of a civic responsibility.
As the population began to increase in the early 1800s, taverns and saloons began to allow dice and card games. This is where the evolution towards casinos began.
Following on in history, even though gambling with dice and cards was not necessarily legal, it did however, flourish. It began to grow on the riverboats traveling the Mississippi river and New Orleans became a popular gambling city. Beginning in 1820, New Orleans was the first city in America that required casinos to have a license. This did not mean that the casinos were regulated. It was really a tax or a means by the city to collect some of the revenue.
In the 1830s sentiment in the south began to grow weary of the professional gamblers and card sharks that were found throughout the network of river boats and river town gaming establishments. With the move westward to California and Nevada, this southern center of gambling slowly wound down.
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During the beginning of the gold rush, San Francisco, replace New Orleans as the popular gambling city. The move of settlers west was seen to be very much within a gambling and risk taking, adventurous spirit. During the period of 1840 – 1855, gambling became so popular that the cities and the state of California required establishments to have licenses as a way of raising money. It was also a predominant activity not just in the main California cities, but in every mining camp and town.
The social ills that came with the popularity of gambling caused the implementation of laws to limit gambling and its destructive effects of the time. This movement coincided with the period of prohibition. The laws enacted were mainly intended for the professional gamblers, those who ran the games and were considered to be cheats and thieves. These laws, however, were not very effective because they were initially too hard to enforce.