As a species, humans have been playing games for centuries. Games of all kinds – speed, skill, chance – have been around for a very long time. Similarly, making bets or wagers on the outcome of those games, as well as any other events, natural or man-made, emerged alongside them. It is from these humble beginnings that we can track the evolution of the massive international gambling industry.
In the beginning…
The very first records of gambling come from 2300BC, from the Middle Kingdom. Archaeologists discovered a handful of ancient Chinese gambling tiles, which would have been used in games of skill. It’s not unreasonable to assume that others could have placed bets on the outcome of those games.
Ancient Egyptian dice have also been discovered, which date back to around 1500BC. Of course there is no telling if there are older artefacts just waiting to be unearthed, but at the very least, we can put a definite date on the opening of the first casino, arguably the next leap towards organized gambling.
The first casino
While gambling of all sorts have been around for several millennia, it was in 1638 that a place was created specifically for the purpose of gambling. Up until that point, a gambler would have to visit small, informal venues to place bets. Often, these were not exactly places you’d take your mother – they were taverns, brothels or otherwise unsavoury locations that would be very intimidating for your average gambler looking to spend some money.
In 1638, ahead of the famed carnival in Venice, the authorities decided to create a place specifically where people could gamble, the idea being that players would be kept in line and out of trouble under the watchful eye of the organizers. What began as a temporary arrangement soon became so popular, it stuck around after the carnival came and went. As you know, the Casino di Venezia stands to this day!
The word ‘casino’ began to be used as we understand it today some time in the 19th century, by which time a number of casinos had begun appearing all over Europe. The buildings themselves were designed to appeal to the wealthy and/or famous elite of the gambling world, a fact reflected in the extravagant interiors and impressive architecture.
Across the pond, gamblers were less lucky. For a long time, the only place you could gamble was in a saloon bar, hardly the safest or most welcoming of locations for the novice gambler. Thankfully, a revolution was on its way.
The Vegas Casino boom
In the early 1900s, many thousands of railroad workers were working hard to connect the east and west coasts of North America. There was little to do by way of recreation on this long and arduous mission, so it didn’t take long for drinking, gambling and other unsavoury activities to become very popular in the arid and dusty plains of Nevada.
The authorities eventually took note, cracking down on the gambling, prostitution and crime that gripped the state. Between 1910 and 1931, gambling was illegal in the state of Nevada. By that point, the Prohibition had led to the creation of many an underground (and completely illegal) watering hole. These speakeasys proved a great place to roll some dice and play some cards without getting into trouble. By this stage, the connection between crime and gambling had already been forged.
When the Prohibition and the ban on gambling were eventually lifted, both drinking and gambling could emerge into the light of day. The Golden Gate casino opened its doors. In 1941, the very first casino resort opened – the El Rancho Vegas. This combined the thrill of gambling will all manner of other entertainment by offering guests many other amenities like swimming pools, riding facilities and more. Its casino room contained a single craps table, roulette wheels and about 70 slot machines. Though small by modern standards, it would eventually become the template other businesses used to develop their own casinos. It also marked the start of the Las Vegas gambling boom.
With Vegas and its casinos drawing more and more attention, it drew the interest of the America Mafia. Mobsters from both sides of the country were keen to get in on the action. Mafia families got involved, creating their own resorts, doing business with one another and trading company shares. As you can imagine, it’s unlikely that all of these dealings were completely above board but the Mod knew how to make hay while the sun shines.
By the 1950s, Vegas was, at any one time, entirely controlled by some Mafia family or another. The mobsters used their connections to bring famous faces to their casinos – Elvis and Frank Sinatra did plenty to boost the city’s fame and fortune. By 1954, resorts like the Sahara, the Sands and the New Frontier were welcoming 8 million visitors a year to their casino rooms.
Eventually, the mobsters gave way to capitalist businessmen, including Howard Hughes, whose business model involved buying up old casinos and spending millions on revamping them. In 1989, the Mirage Hotel and Casino opened its doors – it was the first ‘mega-resort’ in Vegas and marked the beginning of the end for the old-style casinos. Today, some 40 million visitors make their way to this oasis in the desert, in what has been a remarkable upward trajectory of the gambling industry.
Players today will have a hard time choosing from the hundreds of online casinos on offer. The birth of the internet revolutionized the way we entertain ourselves and operators and game developers quickly identified a niche for online casino games. Today, the online gambling industry is a highly competitive industry, focused on maintaining high standards of fairness and customer service. A casino’s reputation is its most valuable asset and online operators are keen to preserve and strengthen their relationships with players.
For a few ideas on where you can play casino games online, go ahead and browse our casino reviews and maybe pick up a juicy bonus while you’re at it!