Gambling is among the oldest pastimes in the world, and drawing lots is even mentioned in the Bible. There are also official records in China dating back to 2300 BC, and is believed by many to be much older than this. In fact, gambling may have been present in almost every human society throughout known history. They were first played in the private homes of a civilisation’s wealthy citizens, and the games would have spread from there.
Casino is actually an Italian word, and first meant any summerhouse, pavilion or smaller building on a larger estate. These would function primarily as a venue for pleasurable activities, and when the scope of these expanded to include sports and gambling the word began to be used to describe any public building used for fun or leisure. Today, as we know, it is specifically used in reference to gambling establishments.
The first official public casino was, appropriately and as you might imagine, in Italy. The Ridotto opened in Venice is 1638 to create a controlled space for gambling during the carnival season in the city. The idea took off, and spread all around the continent from there.
Gambling in the United Kingdom has been important for hundreds of years. Racing bets are the oldest form, gaming houses were a key social activity in London and the spa towns during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and lotteries were used to raise funds for several public buildings including the British Library.
USA and Australian Casinos
Like so many features of American culture, gambling and casinos were brought over with pioneers and workers from all over the world. The first gambling halls were known as saloons, and were important to the cities of Chicago, St Louis, San Francisco and New Orleans. As the many travelers who frequented these cities moved through them, they drank, socialised, gambled and generated revenue in saloons.
European settlers also brought betting and gambling activities to Australia, where they were popular but illegal. In fact, the first legitimate Australian casino only opened in 1973 in Tasmania, following some serious campaigning.
All of the cultures mentioned have long histories with gambling, and periods of history when legislation around casinos was stricter and more relaxed. Today they all allow casinos to operate, though in the United States this is regulated and limited according to state-specific legislation.
Casinos have also emerged all over the rest of the world, including in Macau where ancient Chinese games are played in the casinos that have only been open since the 1950s. In the great melting pot of America, native tribes played with settlers when they were allowed to and influenced the culture that arose. They then put their acquired knowledge to good use when Native American Gaming started growing in the 1970s. Tribes were granted sovereignty in their traditional lands, and have used the opportunity to develop some incredibly lucrative casino properties and projects.
While gambling is alive and well and you can find superb land-based casinos all over the world, the Internet explosion of the 1990s ushered in a new era for casino enthusiasts. Suddenly you could play online, without having to travel, at any time. The huge convenience of playing like this was taken even further with mobile platforms, and both online and mobile casinos become more engaging and realistic all the time.
Through all their permutations, our enthusiasm for casinos does not waver. Since gambling seems to have been practiced around the world since time immemorial, it seems unlikely that it ever will.