Hungary Magazine

From Ancient Rome to today: the development of gambling in Hungary


Budapest, Hungary – We tend to think that things just happen; the world is how it is today because that’s just how things are. But that’s not the case. The world is built inch by inch, and it’s only after a long enough timeframe that we can see how things developed.

Let’s take gambling, for instance. Today, it’s a common pastime in many countries across Europe, including in Hungary. But how did we get here? Those casinos and leisure practices didn’t just pop up out of nowhere; there’s a history that led to the modern era of Hungarian gambling. 

Early days dice games 

The more archaeologists dig into the past, the more it becomes clear that humans have been gambling for a long time. That’s true all over the world, including in Europe.

Excavations have uncovered dice from thousands of years ago, leading historians to believe that they were first used for ritual purposes. Following this line of thought, it would’ve taken a few hundred years for the gambling idea to sink in.

However, that context would still place Europeans’ relationship with gambling as several thousand years old. But that ancient form doesn’t look all that familiar to us. For that, we have the Romans to thank. 

Roman influence 

The Romans gave us plenty of things that we still rely on today, such as road networks, legal systems, not to mention our language. It should be no surprise that Ancient Rome played a significant role in the birth of gambling in Europe. 

Research into the history of gambling suggests that locals would bet on the outcome of those famous gladiator battles at the Colosseum. The bloody duels may now be part of a bygone era, but the knack for gambling remained. 

Today, fans place wagers on the result of gentler activities, such as football and other sporting matches. 

Hungarian gambling

With gambling spreading around Europe, it was inevitable that Hungary would get involved with the action. This took some time, however. Indeed, comparing it to how long gambling has been going on in other European cities, Hungary seems pretty slow.

The first casino — in the world, not just in Europe — dates back to 1638 Italy, but it wasn’t until the 1820’s that Hungary had its own casino.

The Casino di Venezia in Venice began its life as a theatre, but gambling became a popular way to pass the time during the intermission of plays. Soon, it was a dual-purpose establishment, offering both performances and gambling entertainment, not unlike the casinos you’ll find today. 

Before long, the popularity of the Casino di Venezia had prompted others to follow suit and open up their own casinos. By the mid-1700’s, Venice was unquestionably the world’s casino capital, with more than 120 in operation.

It wasn’t until 1827 that the Nemzeti Casino, the first land-based casino in Hungary, opened its doors. The casino closed down in 1944, and from then on, it would be a long time before casinos would appear again in the country. The oldest Hungarian casino still in operation is the Casino Sopron, which dates back to 1989.

Into the 21st century 

And where do we find ourselves today? Gambling is now widespread across most European countries, including Hungary.

That’s partly due to relaxed laws but primarily down to the arrival of the internet, which has given people the means to play casino games wherever and whenever they like. And with online casinos improving all the time, that popularity seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

Online gambling became permitted in Hungary in 2013, following a raft of other laws that helped relax gambling restrictions.

Today, Hungarians (and people visiting the country) have a host of in-person or online options available to them. It’s another step along the long road that is the history of gambling in Hungary.

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.