Casino History Explained | LeoVegas

Casino History Explained

Sure, we know casinos are establishments where you go to play gambling games. But what is the story behind the casino? Breaking down the etymology of a word is a great way to begin the revelation of a history that extends over centuries.

The word casino comes from the Italian word casa, which means house, while the suffix -ino typically implies the diminutive. Therefore, the combination of the root word and the suffix defines casino as a small house. In Italy, a ‘small house’ would often refer to a summer residence, a place of pleasure where people would retire to engage in all sorts of entertaining activities, including gambling.

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The first known casino was established in Venice, Italy in 1638. Although not defined as a casino by name, rather as ‘Il Ridotto’, the building’s purpose fits the modern-day description. It was established by the Great Council of Venice to enforce controlled gambling during Carnival, after games of chance became popular on the city’s streets.

Here is a list of some of the key stages in the history of casinos before we dive deeper…

  • Casino Gambling in Antiquity.
  • Evidence of card games, dice games, and table games in the early centuries.
  • The first casino opens to the public in Venice, Italy.
  • The rise of gambling in the USA.
  • Charles Fey invented the slot machine in the 19th century.
  • Slot machines move from manual to electronic operation.
  • 1976: we see the first video slot machine.
  • Introduction of online casinos.
  • 2003: the first live dealer casino hits the market.
  • Online gambling is projected to surpass $100 billion this year (2024)

Origins of Gambling

If you look back on history, you’ll find that much of it is filled with stories of people engaging in all types of games of chance. Before monetary currency existed, people bartered and bet their livestock and belongings. In West Asia, the first dice were found during an excavation in Iran. They were part of a backgammon-like game that dated back to 2800 - 2500 BCE. In the East, the first recorded games of chance date back to the Xia Dynasty (2070 - 1600 BCE) having been discovered on tiles in Ancient China. In Europe, Greek and Roman pottery reveal gameplay with marbles dating back to 1100 BC.

The Rise of European Casinos

Although evidence shows that gambling has existed since ancient times, it took a while for any sort of formal gambling hub to be established. The first place to birth the casino concept was ‘Il Ridotto’ in Venice, Italy, back in the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century however, that the word ‘casino’ was coined, and the concept of a casino became popular in Europe.

The 19th century saw the rise of some of Europe’s top gambling spots including the Casino di Monte Carlo in Monaco, the Casino Estoril in Portugal, and the Casino Barrière d’Enghien-Les-Bains in France, all of which still stand today. The Casino di Monte Carlo is renowned for glitz and glamour, and if you’re a pop culture fan, you’ll know that this gorgeous location has often been featured in films, most specifically within the James Bond franchise. Whilst casinos grew in Europe, it took a little longer for them to appear in the States.

American Gambling Frontier

Gambling has been part of American culture since travellers would meet and gamble in saloons back in the 19th century. Most would argue that the American Old West is synonymous with gambling. Areas such as New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco quickly established themselves as the gambling capitals of the USA during that time. While frontier gamblers were considered elite, riverboat gamblers were a class of their own, often considered high rollers.

The decline in the popularity of riverboat casinos over time can be attributed to several reasons. As railway travel was introduced, travel along the river became less of a need. Rest assured, regardless of the preceding factors, all has not been lost as according to reports, around 63 riverboat casinos still operate across the US today.

The Glittering Era of Las Vegas

Former Nevada archivist Guy Rocha once said that it is impossible to deny the fact that the Mafia helped move Las Vegas forward, and claimed that the Mafia and Las Vegas are forever interlinked.

During the mid-20th century, the reality was that while there were people running casinos who had no money to invest in them, there was also the Mafia who had the money to invest, but didn’t know how to run them. This scenario marked a defining moment in shaping Las Vegas' path toward becoming the globally recognized Sin City it is today.

Las Vegas is now known as the leading entertainment capital of the world. It is one of the six most visited states in the USA, known for its nightlife, entertainment, and gambling. The majority of the state’s income is generated from the luxury casinos that have stood there since the 1940s. In fact, 40% of its tax revenue comes from gambling.

Globalization of Casinos

Macau has fast become one of the most profitable and established locations within the gambling industry, earning its title as the ‘Las Vegas of the East’. Its rapid growth has largely contributed to the restoration of the gambling market’s statistics and has set the bar for high stakes gambling within the global gaming industry.

What sets Macau apart from other gambling entertainment locations is its focus on game development and best practices in its delivery of regulatory standards. It has been successful in its attempt to bring the East and West together, creating a top-quality experience for gambling players all over the world.

This is even more apparent following the shift from in-person gambling to online gaming, with live dealers bringing a personal experience to players in their homes, through online blackjack and roulette. Macau has been a great influence on other destinations known for their gambling attractions and its use of advanced technologies in gameplay has shifted the focus globally on Asia as a market with great potential.

Since the 1990s, the online gambling market has grown substantially, with global revenue expected to surpass $100 billion this year. The impact of more advanced technologies has allowed for more varied, exciting, and accessible gameplay online.

When the first online casino opened to the public in 1994 for the Liechtenstein International Lottery, the formation of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission soon followed. It was formed in 1996 to set regulations in place for gambling online.

In 1994, software company Microgaming claimed to have created the first fully functioning online casino. In 2003, Playtech introduced live dealers to online casinos, a technological advancement that was met with great anticipation as it bridged the virtual with real world.

Famous Casino Games Through the Ages

The first known records of card games take us to East Asia, to the Tang Dynasty. Card games reached Europe sometime within the 14th century, and it was in France that the four-suit deck of cards you know and love was created. Table games like roulette and blackjack were invented more recently, with evidence of the former first dating back to the 19th century.

The slot machine, best defined as the pillar of the casino, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. It has remained a favourite in American casinos ever since Charles Fey set the standard by creating the first slot machine, The Liberty Bell, in 1894. Following his creation, the 1960s saw slot machines become fully automated. By the mid-1970s, the first video slot machine, Fortune Coin by Walt Fraley, came to be and used a random number generator instead of a lever. With the emergence of technology, the 1990s saw slots transfer online, and a shift that further prioritized the importance of player protection.

Nowadays, leading slot game developers such as NetEnt, Hacksaw Gaming, and Playtech are consistently building on the classics, whilst simultaneously creating new and exciting betting experiences and content.

Casino History FAQs

What is the history of casinos?

As gambling evolved from ancient times, so did the history of the casino. As a gambling building, the ‘casino’ can be traced back to ancient civilizations, from wild saloons to iconic, gambling houses in destinations like Las Vegas and Macau. Nowadays, online casinos bridge brick-and-mortar casinos with the real world, offering slots, classic table games, and even casino games with real live dealers. Who knows what’s next - hologram dealers, a Vision Pro casino floor?

Who started the first casino?

The first known casino was located in Venice, Italy, known as Il Ridotto. It was created to control gambling during Carnival.

Why is a casino called a casino?

There is no clear reason as to why casinos are called casinos, however, the etymology of the word comes from the Italian root word ‘casa’, meaning house, and the diminutive suffix ‘-ino’ which means small. History shows us that before formal casinos were invented, people would gamble in pubs and their homes, which could be the reason for the creation of this specific word.

Who invented gambling?

The earliest records of gambling take us back to ancient Greek and Roman times.

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