History of Money: How Money Has Evolved

by Tim | Feb 10, 2023

History of Money: How Money Has Evolved

Since its creation thousands of years ago, money has played an important role in society, affecting all aspects of life, including gambling. Join us as we unpack the origin and evolution of money over the centuries, from the first coins to the digital currency that we use to play online slots in the UK,  and how this has affected gambling and casinos. 

A penny for your thoughts? The introduction of coins

We don’t know for certain when money was invented, but it’s theorised that countries like China, Egypt, and others were among the first to start using coins. However, we only know for certain that the first currency that used coins was the Lydian Lion. This coin was made by the nation of Lydia, which existed in the area that would be recognised today as a part of Turkey. It was forged out of electrum, a silver and gold alloy, and records of its existence go as far back as 650–625 BC. 

While people previously used other goods, like stock, tools, and food, when bartering during a trade, coins helped standardise the way people exchanged goods and services. This is because they offered numerous benefits over other objects that were used in trade. For example, coins were much easier to move around compared to many of the other items used in trade. Where you might have once had to move a cow to pay for something, you could now simply hand over a bag of coins. Coins were also durable, which meant that they could be used again and again over a long period of time.

There’s no doubt that as technology developed and cultures around the world increasingly came into contact with each other, the use of coins as a medium for exchange became more commonplace. However, trade would be made even easier with the introduction of a new medium.

Money gets thinner and lighter

While the Egyptians will undoubtedly be credited with the creation of papyrus, the precursor to modern paper, the nation that helped elevate paper quality and production and assisted with its spread all across the world was the Chinese. As a result, it shouldn’t surprise many that they were also the first to introduce paper currency around the 7th century. This first paper money was actually a receipt which reflected a specific number of coins, which richer merchants struggled to carry around with them due to their sheer weight. 

These receipts would eventually lead to the creation of the first actual paper currency in the 11th century in China. The printing of paper money during this period was actually a result of a copper shortage and was meant to be a temporary solution, but due to the obvious advantages it offered over coins, paper money was officially adopted as a permanent form of currency.

The idea of paper money would eventually spread around the entire world, although it took several hundred years before it really started to catch on. For example, the first paper money in Europe was printed by Stockholms Banco, Sweden’s first bank, in 1661. Not long after Sweden in 1690, the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America also started using paper money. 

Paying with bank cards

Bank cards scattered on top of each other.

Coins and paper money existed symbiotically for years, which is why it wasn’t until plastic bank cards came along that people’s relationship with money really underwent a dramatic change. Where physical currency was once an indicator of your finances, now a simple plastic card could be worth hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars. The first bank card that had a magnetic stripe that could store data was invented in 1969 by Forrest Parry, an IBM engineer. To prevent fraud, updates were made to the technology that powered these cards, including the introduction of a PIN number in 1972 and EMV (more commonly known as chip and pin) in 1986. 

While countries adopted this new technology at different times, today, the use of bank cards is commonplace. 

Digital money becomes even more accessible

While bank cards had made the concept of digital money accessible to all, there were still several developments that would make digital money even more available. The development that would undoubtedly change the way we used digital money forever was the introduction of dedicated online currencies and payment systems. 

The first company to embrace this idea was egold, which was launched in 1996. It grew in popularity until it was eventually shut down in 2008. Another popular online payment system that still exists today is PayPal. The company was established in 1998 and focused on offering online money transfers. It has since gone on to offer other services, such as credit, card readers and debit cards, but it is still very much known for how easy it made online payments. The popularity of PayPal and the growing eCommerce industry has since spawned numerous competitors to PayPal, such as Cash App, Amazon Pay, and Skrill.

While the world increasingly shifted to digital and online payment systems, another digital disrupter to the financial industry would quietly appear in 2009. 

Decentralising money with cryptocurrency

In January 2009, a developer who worked under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto released the world’s first cryptocurrency: bitcoin. This digital currency was decentralised and used advanced cryptography techniques and the blockchain (a digital, decentralised public ledger). 

While there is still much debate on the role it will play in our financial systems moving forward, it presented an alternative way of managing money online that was absolutely revolutionary. Banks and other financial institutions would no longer be necessary to verify transactions, as everything would be recorded across multiple digital ledgers hosted by millions of people around the world. Bitcoin offered many benefits over traditional financial processes, as payments would be virtually instantaneous, as well as offering increased security and lower fees.

The bitcoin revolution (or the bitcoin evolution, as some of its nay-sayers may have you believe) led to the creation of many other cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dogecoin, all of which served different purposes (even being a “joke” or “meme” coin, as is the case with Dogecoin). 

However, due to uncertainty around cryptocurrencies, the value of these coins varies wildly, making the cryptocurrency market a highly volatile space that could make someone a millionaire or homeless virtually overnight.

The impact of currency on gambling and casinos

A close-up of casino chips and $100 bills.

Long before money came along, gamblers had used all sorts of alternatives to cash to enjoy a good bet, whether it was their own belongings, food, or other goods. But there’s also no doubt that the introduction of money undoubtedly made it easier for people to gamble. Coins were easier to carry, and gambling using coins meant people knew the exact worth of what they were getting should they win a wager. 

The creation of true paper money in China in the 11th century had an impact on the entire world, including gambling. And while paper currency didn’t replace metal coins,  both found a place with gamblers all around the world. Gamblers could now bet even larger amounts due to the ease of carrying around paper banknotes, which were often higher in value than coins as well.

The bank card really changed the game in regard to gambling limits. Gamblers were no longer limited by the amount of physical money they could carry around with them but could, in theory, carry all the cash they had banked with them wherever they went. 

The ability to access incredible volumes of money for gambling became even easier thanks to digital banking and financial services becoming even more mainstream. Over time, people were able to leave their bank cards behind and use their phones to buy casino credit at brick-and-mortar and online casinos, thanks to smartphone apps like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, as well as other online financial services like PayPal.

The introduction of cryptocurrency was the next big change that would send shockwaves throughout the gambling and casino industry. The idea of an anonymous, secure, fast, and cost-effective way to process money sounded like a dream come true for many online casino owners. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether crypto is a fad or whether it will become a legitimate measure of money, pushing it to the sidelines when it comes to mainstream payment methods for the gambling industry. Still, this hasn’t stopped some online casinos from accepting it as a legitimate form of payment, even if its value shifts dramatically on almost a daily basis.

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