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3 UNLV Gaming L.J. 199 (2012)
Changing Public Policy and the Evolution of Roman Civil and Criminal Law on Gambling

handle is hein.journals/unlvgalj3 and id is 215 raw text is: CHANGING PUBLIC POLICY AND THE
Suzanne B. Faris*
In Ancient Rome, gambling, at least in the form of dice games, was gener-
ally considered a vice, yet the only known criminal statutes prohibiting it were
only sporadically and selectively enforced. Otherwise, aside from a legal prohi-
bition on the enforceability of gambling debts and some limited private rights
of action, the Roman state as a whole displayed what can only be described as a
laissez faire policy toward all forms of gambling. What we would now call
sports betting was exempted from the statutory prohibition altogether. This
remained the case well into the Christian period, when a general crackdown
might have been expected, but even under Theodosius II in the fifth century of
the Common Era, no changes were made to the existing law on gambling.
With the sixth-century emperor Justinian, however, imperial policy
towards gambling underwent a profound change in the attitude that informed
new legislation, if not in the actual efficacy of enforcement. Guiding this shift
in official attitudes toward gambling was a threefold policy objective: (1) con-
cern for protecting the assets of tax-paying imperial subjects (many of whom
also had additional financial and service obligations in their native cities), (2)
concern for the public morals, and (3) concern for weeding out frivolous
In this Article, Part II examines Roman attitudes towards gambling, at
least as exemplified in the surviving literary sources from the second century
BCE to the fourth century CE. Part III discusses what constituted illegal gam-
bling (alea) under Roman public (i.e., criminal) law and how, if at all, the
statutory prohibitions were enforced in practice. Part IV will address Roman
private law pertaining to gambling, including both the limited remedies availa-
ble to losers in dice games and the bars to recovery for injury and property
* Suzanne Faris is an attorney and college teacher of Classics and Ancient History. She
holds a JD from Tulane University and a PhD in Latin from Bryn Mawr College. After
practicing law in Louisiana and Florida for four years, she returned to graduate school to
study Classics. Since completing her doctorate, she has taught variously Latin, Ancient
Greek Ancient History and Roman Law at Tulane, Southern Illinois University Carbondale,
the University of Cincinnati and Ohio University. She recently became a member of the
International Masters of Gaming Law. She wishes to thank Rob Rychlak and Tony Cabot for
their priceless advice and encouragement in writing this article. She would also like to
express her deepest gratitude to the editors of the UNLV Gaming Law Joumal for their
tireless help and support in making this article a reality. Any flaws or errors herein are the
responsibility of the author alone.


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