The History of Casinos

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The practice of gambling has been prevalent since ancient times, with archeologists finding the earliest record of it around 2300 BC in China with the discovery of rudimentary games of chance on tiles. Egypt strengthened those theories as evidence of dice games was discovered dating back to the 15th century BC, while Greek and Roman pottery provided further proof of gambling as the pottery of yesteryears suggested the betting on animal fights.

Gambling had a root in ancient India as well with many people believing it to be prevalent around 7300 BC as the gambling boards and gambling with dice found their mention in the ancient Sanskrit epic, The Ramayana, where board gambling is referred to as Aksa. But the epic did not shed light on the ill-effects of the practices, which was highlighted in another renowned Sanskrit epic, The Mahabharata, which is believed to date around 3200 BC.

The Mahabharata did not condone the activities of gambling but illustrated the ill-effects of it on society as it was one of the major events that ultimately led to the most gruesome wars in Indian mythology between the Kaurava and Pandava princes in Kurukshetra, caused by the well-documented gambling events between the two groups of cousins.

The Buddhist text indicated that the earlier civilization in India used nuts of the Vibhitaka tree as dice as early as 300 BC, which were later replaced by astragali where the game Passa originated. It is believed that gambling on animal fights were also popular in the early years and progressed to horse racing later.

Notably, the initial days saw the practice as a leisure activity and was prevalent among friends and family members without any designated establishment hosting the games. It is believed that playing cards were first introduced to the world by the Chinese around the ninth century, but the games present in those times are unknown. Also, the cards do not resemble the ones that are in use today.

As the practice evolved and spread in society, people indulged in gambling activities in houses or alleys, with a need for it to become more organized and regulated. The first known gambling house was established by the authorities in 1638, in Venice, Italy. The Ridotto, meaning ‘private room’ in Italian, was established to amuse the population as the Italian government aimed to introduce government-regulated (legal) gambling during the famous Venice Spring Carnival season.

The word casino came much later and was formed from the Italian word meaning “a small house”. The Ridotto gained tremendous popularity among the citizens of Italy and had the backing of the authorities as it garnered them hefty taxes. But the Church did not take kindly to the activities in the country and forced the authorities to ban gambling, leading to the closure of the Ridotto in 1774, after operating for more than a century. Notably, Casino di Venezia is the city’s oldest casino that is still operating to this day and is the oldest functioning casino in the world at 400 years.

The denouncement of gambling in Italy was followed by its popularity in the neighboring country, France. Paris inaugurated the first casino in the country in 1765 that contained a novelty, the roulette game, which gained popularity rapidly among a large number of players. Casinos gained tremendous popularity in the 19th century as the establishments became more lavish, entertaining novelties along with some of the biggest public figures in the region. They also turned into a place of discussion of hot political issues of the days.

But, once again the casinos were on the receiving end during the late 19th century due to amendments to the gambling legislation, which forced the closure of most casinos across Europe. The only casino that managed to operate was Monte Carlo since the principality of Monaco did not have restrictions on gambling. But by this time, the activity of gambling had reached immense popularity and eventually made its way to America.

Las Vegas became the home of gambling in the year 1906 after a group of railroad workers gave birth to the first gambling establishment in the country as they needed some way to pass the evenings and relax. But it wasn’t until the year 1941, that the authorities decided to create a licensed venue as El Rancho Vegas, the first gambling resort featuring casinos established in Nevada. Since then, Vegas has emerged as the hub for casinos and is recognized as the gambling capital of the USA.

While there were several proofs of early gambling in India, the subcontinent nation got its taste for it during the reign of the Britishers, who introduced the game of cricket in the early 18th century and brought major horse-riding events in the following century. Cricket had become a betting sport of choice. However, the rapid growth of gambling among the large population in India made it difficult for the authorities to regulate it. They eventually decided to introduce the Public Gambling Act of 1867, rendering all gambling houses in the country illegal.

Gambling in India is still considered taboo by the layman and is often frowned upon by the general consensus with all the major Indian states putting a lid on gambling activities unanimously, apart from Goa, Sikkim and Meghalaya. Goa is not only the gambling hub of the country but also boasts of some of the most affluent casinos in all of Asia.