Archeologists Discover 17th-Century Russian Underground Casino

  • Archaeologists found a wooden bench with carvings of the then-popular game of alquerque
  • The discovery was made in a region approximately 385 miles from Moscow
  • The artifact dates back to the 17th century, chips for the game were also found last year
  • Gambling was banned at the time in Russia, forcing people to gamble underground
archaeologist wearing gloves and cleaning artifacts with a brush
A team of archaeologists have discovered a wooden bench with an engraving of the alquerque game layout, suggesting the existence of a 17th-century underground casino in Russia. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A centuries-old casino find

Archeologists from the Archaeological Center of Pskov have discovered what they believe is a 17th-century underground casino in Russia.

The main artifact, a wooden bench, was found in an area located approximately 385 miles from the capital city of Moscow. The bench has a unique carving, believed to be the layout of a game known as alquerque. 

Gambling was outlawed in Russia in the 17th century. As a result, casinos were forced underground to allow people to still get their gambling fix. People who were caught practicing the pastime were punished by flogging or by having their ears cut off.

The popularity of alquerque

The game of alquerque is somewhat similar to checkers. Said to have originated in the Middle East, it was a mainstay in 17th-century Russia and vied with chess for popularity at the time. The goal of the game is to eliminate all twelve of your opponent’s pieces.

people would simply sit on the bench to hide the carving or place a cloth over it

If the authorities happened to raid the location when suspecting illegal gambling was taking place, people would simply sit on the bench to hide the carving or place a cloth over it. While their games would be over, in this way they were able to avoid punishment. According to the archeologists behind the discovery,

Players had to go to all sorts of tricks to hide their addiction.”

In 2018, chips for this game were also discovered in the region. 

Russia’s more recent gambling scene

After the fall of the Soviet Union, gambling and casinos became a lot more popular in Russia during the 1990s. However, issues began to arise, with many Russians falling foul of gambling addiction. This led to Vladimir Putin taking action.

In 2009, commercial casinos were banned across the nation except in four remote areas in Southern Russia, the Kaliningrad Baltic Sea enclave, the Far East, and Siberia. At the time, Russia had as many as 300,000 slot machines.

As a result of the ban, the unions in the country believe over half a million jobs were subsequently lost. The government maintains this figure was closer to 60,000 jobs.

Last month, the Russian authorities approved the development of a casino zone in Crimea, with its first gambling establishment set to open in 2022.