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The Influence of Middle Eastern Culture and History on Gambling

Downtown Dubai
Downtown Dubai. Credit: Pxfuel

If you have been engaged in the world of online gambling for a while, you definitely have noticed that nothing iconic has escaped the fate of being transformed into a slot machine. Everything from movies, TV series, rock stars, legends, celebrities are now the themes of gambling games. If it has an element of glitz and glamour or horror and suspense, you can bet it already exists, or it is in the making. 

But cultural snippets are not the only ties between gambling and the world. Over time, cultures have created games to pass the time and rituals for spiritual purposes that have evolved into the modern-day board games and table games of casinos. This is one of the unifying phenomena that happened all around the globe. Still, in this article, we will focus only on the ancient MENA cultures and their influence. But first, let us imagine a world with no Muslim inventions. 

First off, fishing would have been much more difficult if the polymath Ismail al-Jazari would not have come up with the crank mechanism. Theoretical math also sprung from Persia, as the scholar Kitab al-Jabr Wa l-Mugabala compiled the existing systems into the coherent structure we use today for physics, chemistry, IT, and even gambling RNG. And how could we forget to mention coffee in this brief overview of ingenuity? It is the fuel of productive communities.

But when it comes to entertaining games, the MENA cultures were flourishing from early on. Let us go through a few examples.

The Royal Game of Ur (Ancient Mesopotamia) 

This one is a leading example of craftsmanship, aesthetic design, and reigning popularity. The oldest remaining artifacts precede the birth of Christ by 2400 to 2600 years. It combines elements well known to us, like rolling dice and constructing a mathematical strategy on top of it, very similar to backgammon. In the 1980s, researchers at the British Museum unveiled the rules of the game by translating Babylonian tablets. 

Even amateur historians will be able to recognize the typical Ur Game board, from its luscious blue colours, as can be seen in Sir Leonard Wooley's discoveries, now sitting at the British Museum. 

Before we move on to a different area, let us not get stuck in the past, rather bask in the commodities of modern times. Dubai's sky-rocketing economic growth has allowed its residents the privilege of moving all around the globe, expanding their horizons. We have uncovered an excellent tool for Dubai folks now settled in Canada to inspect the online gaming market's best.

Credit: Pxhere

Senet (Ancient Egypt)

Before we delve into the games kept so graciously by time, we have to mention that the examples which appear below are the products of an extremely lavish ancient culture. The Ancient Egyptian Kingdoms were fond of expensive materials, incense, and jewelry, but they were prolific in medicine, science, and the arts. In fact, some temple hieroglyphs showed characters playing these sorts of games using intricate designs. 

While modern historians have constructed the game’s rules by deduction, they know enough about Senet for us to include it here. This two-player board game is decorated using the same symbols as the typical writing systems, and its popularity declined severely during the first Roman Period of 30 to 619 AD. The timeline completed by a player imitates the belief of the afterlife journey of human’s vital spark. 

Tâb (Ancient Egypt)

The popularity of Tâb made its rules be varied from one country to another or from one region to another. However, there is enough information for us to create a synopsis of the main traits. It relies on the chances of dice throwing more than the other option already mentioned. In the West, Edward William Lane noted it first in 1820, but the East documents show its recording to go back to the 1600s. Its gameplay and extensive explanation can be visited on Wikipedia.

Credit: Pxhere

Mehen (Ancient Egypt)

This board can be recognized from a thousand others since it is in the form of a snake coiled around itself. By this feature, scholars have been able to differentiate it between the Hyena Chase, a very similar game in terms of the setup. Its existence is also forever captured on wall illustrations of tombs and other sacred places. Unfortunately, the exact reconstructed step-by-step gameplay is not available; however, a nice fact is that the playing pins are built to represent animal heads, an overarching theme for the Ancient Egyptian Pantheon. 

The Middle East has always retained a unique character and approach. Tradition, innovation, spirituality and progressiveness have been tied together and working in harmony for thousands of years. Even though the focus has been on societal games, we know that these prospering nations like the United Arab Emirates are going to surprise the world again and again. 

In the end, we would like to leave the readers with some food for thought, with a passage that unites all cultures, no matter their attitude towards both luck-based and skill-based games. As the writer William James said, believing that life is worth it will help one create that atmosphere of productive optimism. 

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