A Brief History of Gambling and Casino’s

Gambling has been part of human nature for as long as we can remember. It is a widely accepted belief that nearly every major civilisation has gambled in some shape or form. It seems that the human brain is excited by chance and by competition and it is no surprise today that it is possible to bet on almost anything, from whether it will snow on Christmas Day to when Elvis will reveal that the King actually never left the building. It should be even less of a surprise then, that casino’s are so universally popular. People flock to Las Vegas in their thousand’s every year to place their hopes and dreams on games that can make you or break you at the turn of a card or the roll of a dice.

Given the Chinese’s passion for gambling, few would be shocked to discover that the first recorded account took place in China almost 4,500 years ago. History has shown us that over the course of time gambling has remained a constant source of enjoyment to those partaking, but has often come at the cost of marginalising what truly needed to be done. King Henry VIII for instance, decreed gambling to be illegal after discovering his armies were not following his orders but wasting their days betting amongst each other.

Gambling took place in a variety of locations but it wasn’t until the 19th century when people began to gamble in specific in-house venues, which evolved to become what we know as casinos. Before the 1800’s, Casinos were a place where members of the elite could meet and indulge themselves in any number of pleasurable activities that didn’t necessarily involve games of chance. Indeed, the word “casino,” which is of Latin origin, was used to describe a separate building, such as a summerhouse, set on the grounds of a large compound, where people could escape and relax. The first examples of which could be found as far back as the 17th Century in Venice, Italy.

If Europe was the place where Casino’s were born, then it is in the USA that they became world renowned. In the 21st Century, casinos are no longer just the venues of the rich and the famous. Everybody with money is welcome to take a seat at a large number of facilities across the globe and this is due to the success of “Sin City” itself, Las Vegas. Early gambling in America took place in saloons. These early casino’s have been reproduced in countless Hollywood movies and TV drama’s as workers and pioneers would congregate to drink and fritter away their hard earned cash. In the early 1900’s, gambling in the United States was made illegal. This, along with the introduction of prohibition made the saloon more popular as people sought refuge away from the strict rules imposed.

In 1931, the rules were slackened slightly and the state of Nevada was allowed to legalise gambling and it was then that Las Vegas began its journey to its current status through the construction of casino-hotels. The modern day Vegas owes its nature to organised crime. Mob bosses, who saw the casino’s as the ideal places to launder large sums of money, were responsible for the development or management of the original grand-scale venues.

Today, the Vegas strip is one of the most recognisable places on the planet. The overwhelming array of neon lights and sounds overwhelms the senses from the moment you enter the city and many are left slack mouthed in awe at what greets them. Many of the casinos located upon the strip have been used in a number of films and have become a Mecca for gamblers the world over. The city has become so popular, that it can boast that 15 of the world’s 20 largest hotels which can be found within a two mile radius of each other. The sudden swell of these mega-resorts, such as the MGM Grand and the Bellagio, began in 1989 when The Mirage was opened and prompted further development, so much so that The Mirage is now only the 11th biggest hotel-casino in Vegas.

As we look to the future, it seems in terms of size and cash revenues that Macau, China has overtaken Las Vegas as the largest gambling centre in the world. In excess of $10 billion was taken in Macau in 2007, more than the whole state of Nevada, further underlining China’s obsession for games of chance. Wherever becomes the capital for gambling, the others need not worry. The human race will continue to empty their pockets at casinos in the faint hope of winning enough to change their lives. Just imagine, living a 1000 years ago, someone told you that one day there would be a place where people would freely take their money and happily hand it over to the owner to play a game that favours the house, with limited if any success. You would believe them to be mad, but it’s that small glimmer of hope that keeps us returning and makes the win all the more enjoyable.

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