The history of casinos

The casinos that we know today are generally grand temples of entertainment.

Hotels, restaurants, theatre, performance as well as the gambling – the table games, dice, cards, and slot machines.

Wherever you are in the world, the format and rhythm of a casino feels fairly familiar. But have you ever wondered how casinos originated? Have you ever wondered how we got to this point in the way that we gamble and the way in which we seek to find ways in which to win our fortunes?

In this article we take a look at the history of casinos.

As a starting point we need to take a look at the origin of gambling. No one really knows how or why gambling began, but stories about games that we recognise as games of chance, as gambling, can be found throughout history. Whether it is the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, Medieval Europe, the Chinese Emperors – wherever they have recorded history and talked about their daily lives there is evidence that a favourite pastime was gambling.

The first known or recorded evidence of an establishment dedicated to gambling was in Venice.

It was called ‘Il Ridotto’ which translates from Italian as ‘The Private Room’. This was a wing of the San Moise Palace in Venice. In 1636 the city administration of Venice acquired Il Ridotto and transformed it into a government-owned gambling house.

Evidence from that time suggests that the need for a gambling house in Venice was to help manage the crowds during the carnival season. Access to Il Ridotto was open to the public, but there was a formal dress code and the stakes of the games were high, so in reality only nobles could afford to play at the casino tables.

The dress code sounds spectacularly Venetian – players were required to wear a three-cornered hat and a mask.

Two games are documented as having been played at Il Ridotto – Biribi and Basetta.

Biribi was a lottery-like game in which the players had to place a bet on which number would be drawn from a bag – there were 70 possible outcomes.

Basetta was a card game that is described as something of a cross between blackjack, poker and gin rummy. Basetta evolved into the game that became known as Faro.

The gambling house of Il Ridotto operated for over 100 years – eventually it was closed in 1774 as city-reformers sought “to preserve the piety, sound discipline and moderate behaviour” of the gentlemen of Venice.

In the United States, this type of designated premises for gambling and entertainment were initially referred to as saloons. There were four key cities that became synonymous with gambling saloons – New Orleans, St Louis, Chicago, and San Francisco. However in the early 20th century, state legislators banned gambling as part of a program of social reform. However the state of Nevada legalised gambling in 1931 and the modern casinos as we know them today began to be established.

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