People have been taking risks by placing bets for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans had their own gambling games, while the Chinese developed games of chance like Keno. Fast forward to medieval Europe and we find that gambling was a popular pastime among the nobility. The first public gambling houses appeared in the 17th century and offered a social gathering place for gamblers. Although today, casinos have evolved into online establishments with tons of new online casino games, the traditional brick-and-mortar casino remains a popular attraction to gamblers the world over.
Gambling has now spread across the globe (and the digital space, with online casinos now offer new levels of sophistication that encompass innovations like online auditing and clever ways to withdraw your money,) while new casinos continue to pop up in places such as Monte Carlo, Macau and Las Vegas. For these reasons, it’s not surprising that there’s a rich history of casinos that have survived throughout the ages. Let’s visit some of the iconic casinos from yesteryear and see how they’ve evolved over time and continue to entertain gamblers around the world.
Casinos of Europe
The European gambling adventure began in Venice, Italy, when the world’s first public gambling house, Ridotto, opened in 1638. Two hundred years later, the French followed, turning the French Riviera into a playground for the rich and famous. In the 19th century, German spa towns such as Baden-Baden became hotspots for relaxation and gambling.
And who can forget the glamorous Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco, which has been attracting members of high society since 1863? Here are some of the oldest casinos in Europe that remain open today.
Casinò Di Venezia (Previously the Ridotto) Venice, Italy, 1638
The Casino di Venezia is considered the oldest existing casino in the world. It is housed in the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi, a magnificent palace situated on the Grand Canal, which is famous for the fact that the renowned composer Richard Wagner died there in 1883 of a sudden heart attack while he was, well, doing research for a new opera.
Today, the building is still impressive, even though it doesn’t boast the flashy extravagance of the contemporary casino buildings we’ve become accustomed to. Visitors can have a great time trying their luck at various games such as Texan Hold’em poker, blackjack, roulette, Trente et Quarante and Caribbean Stud Poker. But it’s not just about casino table games because gamblers can also choose between 600 slot machines to keep the excitement going.
Kurhaus of Baden-Baden, Baden-Baden, Germany, 1824
While not strictly a casino, the Kurhaus of Baden-Baden has housed a casino since 1824. When France banned gambling, Europe’s high society rushed to the casino and was entertained by esteemed musicians such as Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann.
The Kurhaus left a lasting impression on notable figures such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who drew inspiration for his book The Gambler (1866.) Even Marlene Dietrich admired it as “the most beautiful casino in the world.”
Recently, the Kurhaus has had the honor of hosting big names such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Today, the lavish gaming rooms offer classic favorites such as roulette, poker and blackjack in addition to an enormous selection of slot machines.
Casino de Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 1856
Although the original casino dates back to 1856, the current building that houses the Casino de Monte Carlo was completed in 1878. Situated in the principality of Monaco, it is renowned for its prestige, lavish decor and high-stakes gambling.
Fast forward a few hundred years and you’ll recognize the spot where James Bond played a high-stakes poker game in the epic 2006 movie Casino Royale. The building still oozes that timeless glamor and continues to attract wealthy celebs, sports icons, talented musicians and billionaires from all over the world.
Today the casino offers a wide selection of games, from European roulette, Punto Banco, poker, craps, video poker, variety games, slot machines and Trente et Quarante.
Casinos of Las Vegas
In the early 20th century, gambling in the US wasn’t yet properly regulated because casinos were subject to different laws in different states. But then Nevada legalized gambling in the 1930s, and the first licensed casino, the Northern Club, opened its doors in Las Vegas, subsequently becoming the holy grail of casino destinations.
Fast forward to the ’40s and ’50s, the mob took over and transformed Vegas by introducing glamorous resorts such as Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The ’60s and ’70s brought the era of mega-resorts where you’d find not just casinos but also top-notch entertainment and luxury accommodations. Las Vegas kept evolving in the ’90s and early 2000s, focusing on diversification and offering unforgettable experiences. Today, we find ourselves in a digital age with online gambling adding to the excitement of the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, 1906
This casino started life as Hotel Nevada before casinos were properly regulated and was later renamed Golden Gate Hotel & Casino. Located on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, it is the city’s oldest operating casino. Nowadays, it is one of the Strip’s most iconic establishments. With over $10 million invested in its renovation, it has become a haven of luxury and allure.
Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, 1946
The Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino is one of the oldest hotel casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. It was the brainchild of mobster Bugsy Siegel and played a significant role in the development of modern Las Vegas. Throughout the ’40s and ’50s the Flamingo lit up the stage with mind-blowing performances by music legends and pop culture icons such as Louis Armstrong, the Three Stooges and Tony Martin.
Nowadays, the Flamingo is still going strong and boasts a massive 15,000-square-foot casino where you can get lost in all sorts of thrilling games.
Tropicana Las Vegas Casino Resort, Las Vegas, 1957
The Tropicana Las Vegas Casino Resort is another iconic casino on the strip and opened as the most expensive casino at the time, valued at around $15 million. Fondly known as the “Tiffany of the strip,” the lush gardens, stained glass ceiling and opulent luxury made it an icon of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The ornate ceiling is a true work of art that covers 4,000 square feet of gaming. Even more fascinating is the fact that the ceiling is suspended by pneumatic shock absorbers, which ensure that it remains unharmed by any vibrations.
A special mention must go to Atlantic City, modeled after Las Vegas, on the east coast. In 1978, the Resorts Casino Hotel was the very first casino to open in the city and paved the way for others to follow. Caesars Atlantic City joined the party the following year and has been a staple ever since, while Tropicana Atlantic City arrived on the scene in 1981, bringing with it its own brand of style and excitement.
And let’s not forget the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, a relative newcomer in 2003 but already a major player given its luxurious vibe. These casinos have been entertaining visitors for decades, offering any visitor to the city a thrilling time.
Casinos of the Rest of the World
Casinos beyond Europe and the US have also survived and evolved over the years. Macau, in China, has become the biggest gambling destination in the world, even outshining Las Vegas. The oldest casino in Macau is the Casino Lisboa. Established in 1970, it holds a special place in the city’s history as the first modern-style casino to open there and continues to attract gamblers from all over the world.
In Singapore, they got in on the action with swanky integrated resorts such as Marina Bay Sands. And down under in Australia, casinos have been part of the entertainment scene for decades, with cities such as Sydney and Melbourne offering a thrilling gambling experience.
South Africa boasts the famous Sun City, while the Philippines has transformed Manila into a buzzing casino hub. And don’t forget the Caribbean and Latin America, where places such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are combining beaches with gambling fun.
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