From horse racing to online slots: A history of Irish gambling

The luck of the Irish is no myth. Hence why gambling in all its various forms has played such a central role in the lives of Irish people for generations.

From horse racing to online slots: A history of Irish gambling.

Gambling has a long and varied history on the Emerald Isle. From horse racing to online slots and everything in between, we’re giving you a brief overview today of the history of Irish gambling.

A hugely social nation with strong roots in Celtic divination and games of chance, Ireland has a fascinating history when it comes to gambling culture.

The island’s gambling landscape has evolved massively over the years alongside social and cultural evolution, so it’s interesting to look back and see how things have changed.

Curious to learn more? Read on to discover all about the fascinating history of Irish gambling.

Gambling in ancient times – stretching back to days gone by

A Celtic cross against a blue sky. The history of Irish gambling goes back to Celtic games of chance.

There’s evidence of a rich gambling culture in Ireland stretching back to ancient times. Often inspired by a belief in Celtic divination and lore, many people gathered together to play games of chance, dice, and board games.

Often played for social and entertainment reasons, and sometimes as part of religious rituals, the history of Irish gambling in ancient times looks vastly different to what we know today.

Popular games included a board game known as ‘fidchell’, similar to modern chess, and a dice game whereby players would cast sticks or bones marked with symbols and bet on the outcome.

Aside from providing entertainment, many believed that the outcomes of these games would indicate the plans of the gods, revealing deep secrets about each player’s destiny.

A shift in Ireland’s gambling culture – travelling through the Middle and Colonial Ages

A white jockey rides a brown horse in a race. Horse racing is part of the history of Irish gambling.
Credit: Pexels/ Daniel

The history of Irish gambling started to change in the Middle Ages. It remained a popular part of the country’s culture. However, attitudes began to shift as some viewed it as harmless entertainment while others saw it as morally questionable.

Many, particularly those closely connected with the Church, began to associate gambling with vices such as idleness, greed, and excess. Particularly games that involved deception and exploitation were viewed as sinful.

At this time, various decrees were put in place to begin to regulate gambling across the island.

Colonial influence from the 12th century also brought major shifts in Ireland’s gambling landscape. Under British rule, games such as poker, betting, and horse racing became more widespread across Ireland.

These games remain popular to this day, with horse racing continuing to be a popular pastime and social event across the island. Events such as the Irish Derby and the Galway Races attract huge crowds keen to try their luck on the horses.

The Colonial period also brought with it stricter gambling regulations. British authorities introduced several laws and restrictions, such as the need for official licenses, in an attempt to control and prohibit certain forms of gambling.

Shifting into the modern era – how the history of Irish gambling has changed

The white cuffed arm of a dealer reaches towards some red chips on a red poker table.
Credit: Pexels/ Anna Shvets

Gambling became more widespread across the island throughout the 20th and 21st centuries with the emergence of betting shops, casinos, lotteries, and online gambling.

For example, betting shops were officially legalised in 1926, offering a unique social experience for gambling in Ireland. With this, people began to attend these spaces to try their luck, catch up with friends, and meet new people.

Laws and regulations have continued to shift throughout the years. Most significantly, the Betting Act was introduced in 1931 to bring into force specific and stringent rules about how gamblers could legally bet on horse races and sports matches.

These laws were brought into force to ensure responsible gambling. For example, age restrictions and specific governmental licensing laws were introduced.

Horse racing and greyhound racing also remain popular, however these games have garnered criticism in recent years due to rising concerns about animal welfare.

Gambling in Ireland today – online and in-person gambling

A gambler faces a slot machine in a casino.
Credit: Unsplash/ Erik Mclean

Much of the ancient and historical gambling methods remain popular in Ireland today, with casinos and races drawing large crowds and acting as significant arenas for social gatherings.

However, in recent years, online gambling has gained huge popularity. With the ease and comfort of allowing people to place bets from their own homes, online gaming sites have seen a huge uptake among the Irish population.

Many gambling websites are licensed and regulated by the Irish Revenue Commission, which will ensure you can enjoy a safe and enjoyable gambling experience.

You can find many of these on reputable sites such as Online Casino Ireland, which offers up-to-date information about the best online casinos available in Ireland.

With such a rich and varied history, there is no denying that gambling has played a central part in Irish history throughout the years.

We’re sure it will continue to do so in years to come, with continued social and cultural shifts bringing about new ways to test the luck of the Irish.

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