Humanity has always been in search of new ways to spend their time in an entertaining way. One such activity is gambling. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. The earliest indication of gambling we’ve discovered comes from ancient China, from around 2300 BC. We can assume that gambling is even older than that.
But it wasn’t until the 1600s when we’ve created some established places to gamble in. Even though gambling was hugely popular before and many people used to take part, there wasn’t a dedicated building for it. Players would meet up in their private homes, clubs, or gambling dens. For this reason, there has come a need for regulating this industry, and therefore, the first casino was built.
The first casino
The first-ever legal, government-owned casino was opened back in 1638 in Venice. It was called Il Ridotto or The Private Room in Italian and was in one of the wings of Palazzo Dandolo. The name came from the term ridurro, which means to close off, as it was situated in a separate wing of the palace. Because there were so many illegal gambling clubs, and enforcing the citizens to stop playing wouldn’t work, the city council decided to establish the casino. Although only the aristocratic families would afford to play there because of the high stakes and formal dress-code, it was open to the public.
As far as the games played back then, Il Ridotto had basetta and biribi on its offer. Basetta was by far the most popular. It was a card game that was a mixture of poker, blackjack, and gin. Because of massive wins and losses, it was only played among the nobles who could afford it.
Biribi, on the other hand, was a game of chance. It was relatively similar to the French game roulette; it consisted of 70 numbers the players put their money on. The winners could win as much as 64-times their bet, instead of 70, as the casino took a cut.
Today, it’s situated in a different building in Venice, as it was moved in 1950. Now it resides in the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi.
The term casino was coined in the late 18th century. At that time, a significant boom in gambling houses took place in Europe. Cities such as Monte Carlo became synonymous with their robust, luxurious casinos. Furthermore, the German town of Baden-Baden and the Belgian city of Spa became home to some of the best and most magnificent casinos in the world. The gambling industry kept growing, and with it, more and more established places to play emerged. As it kept getting more popular in Europe, the other side of the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t idle, too. Americans started to get the hang of it, also.
Americans adopted the concept of the French game Vingt-et-Un, and so, blackjack as we know it was born, even though the original game came into existence in the 17th century. There was a steady growth in gambling during the 1800s. Early versions of poker were played in New Orleans in 1829, and the first slots machine called the one-armed bandit was placed in New York in the late 19th century. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 1900s when the largest gambling, drinking, and depravity hub was born.
Vegas as the home of gambling
Las Vegas, Nevada, is probably the first thing that comes into mind when thinking about casinos. But it wasn’t always like that. When railroad connection was being built between Las Vegas and Los Angeles in 1905, some workers wanted to unwind after the whole day of work and started to play cards. In fact, it got so popular there that the city has become a city of sin. A Sin City, if you will. It became synonymous with prostitution, vice, drinking, and gambling.
In 1910, the state laws changed, and it was illegal to gamble up until 1931. The government wanted to stop the degenerate behaviour. But it wasn’t enough. Gambling tables in basements and private homes of players were set into play. The underground net of gambling got so popular that a heavy establishment was already built when the state legalised it again.
The first casino in Vegas was dubbed the Golden Gate. It was a regular, traditional casino created on the fashion of the European ones. But it was here, in Vegas, where the first casino resort was built. It was called El Rancho Vegas, and it featured swimming pools, a hotel, a hippodrome, and many gambling tables. The scale of it was unprecedented.
When World War II was coming to an end, the mafia has taken an interest in Vegas’ casinos. In 1946, the first casino ran by mobsters was opened. Called The Flamingo, it was even more robust and extravagant than the Rancho. Built with the money of a notorious gangster, Meyer Lansky, and governed by another mobster, Bugsy Siegel, it became the first establishment completely ran by the mob. But as things started to go off the rails, someone had to take responsibility for it. Siegel didn’t do very well with the casino’s management, and he stole money from the mafia to open it quickly. When they found out, they assassinated him.
After that, many other gang-ran casinos were built, such as the New Frontier, The Sands, and The Sahara. It became clear that the mafia ran the whole city.
In the 1960s, the mob had started to lose its influence in the city. A man named Howard Hughes started to buy Vegas-based real estate, such as hotels. His vision was to create the first casino mega-resort. He spent $300 million on investments. And so, in 1989, the first such establishment was born. Dubbed the Mirage Hotel and Casino, it soon started to bring players on a scale that we’ve never seen before. Influenced by Italian architecture, they got more than 40 million players annually from all over the world, setting the standard for other casinos.
Migration to online
Back in the 90s, we started to see the rise of the first casino software developed by Microgaming. With the introduction of safe internet transactions, the first online casinos were opened in 1994. Back then, people were still skeptical about internet payments and thought that they’d be scammed. In fact, many shady internet casinos were opened along with the legitimate ones, so it was justified.
Later on, many countries came through with a law regulating online casinos, but even now, there are some states where online gambling is entirely illegal. Nowadays, you can gamble on your mobile devices, and with the pandemic at large, it’s become more popular than ever. We can assume that the future will bring blockchain-powered gambling with the perk of its total anonymity.