The Romans loved gambling and the modern day Italians do too but where did this desire on the part of governments to regulate it come from?
“Alright,” says revolutionary leader ‘Reg’ in the gloriously wonderful Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian’ as he sits before the rest of his brethren, “but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” It is a rhetorical question that unfortunately elicits the answer “Brought peace?” from one of the meeting attendees. Reg tells him to shut up.
Certainly the “Pax Romana” was a tad harsh in its imposition but the results were undeniable with entire swathes of Europe and beyond all taken in under the umbrella of the Roman Empire and that list of social benefits might now just be the oft quoted joke of a comic genius, but at the time were the real tangible gains of living under Roman rule, and indeed this unification of Europe is something that various people have attempted to replicated in the past.
The most notable of these are probably Napoleon, short Corsican dictator, Hitler, short Austrian dictator, and the European Union, which despite not being short makes up for it by being short sighted and doesn’t so much dictate as guilt trip. The differences between the three couldn’t really be more stark, Napoleon a French Republican, Hitler a German Nazi and the EU pretty much precisely the opposite of both trying to crush not embolden nationalism.
However it is true to say that all three are running into the same problem as they attempt to sweep into one pile the various collections of people that litter the continent, and that problem, is Russia. Napoleon very famously had to retreat from Moscow, Hitler stumbled on the Steppe and then stalled at Stalingrad, and the EU has to deal with Vladimir “Shark Eyes” Putin who doesn’t need the Russian winter to help him against his enemies because he’s got enough nukes to create a winter if he wants to.
From Rome To Russia And Back Again
When you find yourself gambling news of peace talks hosted by the French and Germans go well because you live too close to the Ukraine for comfort, you know something is very wrong in the world. The Germans especially can’t really go around now trying to stop other people having wars when they’re responsible for two of the biggest the world has ever seen, and the French should probably keep their expertise on war to themselves till they win one.
Winning is, of course, something the Romans did rather well with military employing superior tactics, training and equipment in all their campaigns, however, the Roman predilection for gambling never extended to invading Russia (although admittedly that has more to do with geography than a lack of desire). Roman soldiers often gambled on board games, dice games and indeed the tossing of goat’s bones in what appears to be a game replicated now by drunks with beer mats in bars the world over.
New Gambling Laws In Italy
• New restrictions come into effect
• Government expects an extra 937m EUR
• Internet betting in Italy very popular
The board based “game of twelve” was very popular, as was the similarly founded “game of brigands”, both of which frankly sound like new television series ideas for HBO, and indeed the Roman fascination with gambling, a product of their spirituality and religious tendencies, was instilled in children at a young age with the game of “Nuts” in which the small foodstuffs were tossed into a subdivided chalked area on the floor to score points.
A variation on this game included trying to throw a single nut to hit another that was balanced upon three more, a game often characterized as attempting to demolish a castle, which both taught children how to harness the power of skill to gain lucky results, and said all you need to know about the Roman attitude to castles (pretty much summarized by the phrase “You build ’em, we’ll knock ’em down”). Such popularity, of course, lead to some of the very first Italian gambling laws.
It’s A Kind Of Magic
Gambling within Rome, save for on certain public holidays, was banned not out of a pious moral crusade on the part of the conservative wings of Roman politics, but because it so often led to scuffles, fights and riots in the narrow crowded streets, and worse, there was the possibility that some were using magic to aid them towards victory and gain. Not that these laws prevented the rulers playing their games, and indeed Claudius wrote a book about them.
Naturally one of the biggest draws for those who liked to bet on sport in Italy, at that time of course the Roman Empire, was the races and gladiatorial battles, which saw huge crowds gather to watch both the spectacle of men slaughtering each other and that of full speed four-horse chariot racing (yes, just like in Ben Hur) but still the fear of magic use continued with some of those charioteers even being disqualified for “illegal spell use”.
Right now, of course, Italy could do with a bit more magic and a little less gladiatorial combat, as their parliament, never the most stable or sensible place in the world, brings in new restrictions on gambling in the country under the guise of what it is calling a Stability Bill with which it hopes to raise a lot more revenue and iron out some of the wrinkles, as it sees them, in the gambling industry that operates within Italy per se, and keep it within the edicts of the EU.
The new rules came into force on the 20th of this month but already there are those in the industry making dire predictions of its effects “the planned hypothesis of 500 million per year of additional taxation is simply an unrealistic and unachievable one. Because it would lead to a simply unsustainable situation for the field.” said Confindustria’s Federazione Sistema Gioco Italia, who predict job losses of 75,000 or more. Will the Italian government’s gamble pay off? We all wait to see, but won’t be asking Reg for his assessment.