The History of Dice
The path through history which has led to today’s familiar “galloping dominos” is both extensive and twisting, but most of all complicated and multi-branched. Evidence suggests that a true history might extend back to nearly six thousand years, to a forerunner of dice that’s still in use today, in a form that’s commonly toyed with among the today’s Jewish population. This gaming object, in its various forms is called a Dreidel (rhymes with “Cradle”) which throughout its long history has traditionally been applied as a toy among children, and as a device of gambling by adults. It’s played as a single object in the form of a spinning top, with four or six flat sides.
And yet, what we would recognize as dice, in the modern sense, were known to have been used on a board game called “Senet”, in ancient Egypt of 3000BC. Then too, excavations in Iran dating to 2500BC, have actually yielded specimens of “cubical” dice. Yet, while generally, conventional dice were in common use during the 700-year-long span of the Roman Empire, archeological finds throughout that civilization, have also unearthed carefully fashioned straight bones, four to six inches long, most often found in pairs, and each, with six precisely faceted sides that were numerically marked.
Prior to the twentieth century, dice for private play, were most often quite crudely fashioned, with little thought given to the essential need for having all facets of each die “equally possible”, in it’s occurrence in play.
But once serious “casino” dice-gaming became a fashion, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the manufacture of professional dice became a precision industry – not only for dice used in pairs, be also, with the advent of the game of Grand Hazard – commonly called “three dice in a cage”. From this point on, dice that were intended for professional use were required not only to be perfectly cubical in shape, but every edge and corner had to be sharp. Each facet as well, had to be perfectly flat and smooth. By the twentieth century, professional “table – dice” were even required to be transparent – to assure there were no hidden “weights”.
In 1931, when open casino gaming came to the United States – legalized only in the State of Nevada – the state government faced the serious issue of public confidence – since at the time, the country was rampant with shady “back rooms” and “road houses”, where crooked slots and loaded dice were a common occurrence. Nevada’s newly established Gaming Control Board, in facing this reality, made it well known that their function would be as the “great mediator” between the player and casino – making certain that neither should cheat the other. With this view in mind, plain-clothed agents circulated throughout the state to randomly check all varieties of casino games. After casually watching a craps table, for a time, an agent might suddenly flash a badge and call out, “Let me see those dice.”. If any were found, in his testing and examination, to be loaded or even “un-true” – by the following morning that casino would be a parking lot.