The oldest casino (Italian for ‘small house’) in the western world is located on the Grand Canal in Venice. Il Ridotto opened in 1638 and was originally a part of Theatre Saint Moses.
During the intermission of a show, patrons were invited to indulge in a spot of gambling which soon became its main concern. It would seem that the fashion took off: just over a hundred years later, Venice alone had over 120 Casinos.
Il Ridotto set a precedence that has pretty much set the standard for all casinos since. There was a dress code, guidelines on the way patrons were expected to behave while food and drink flowed freely.
These days, this is pretty much standard in all reputable casinos that demand a certain type of clientele.
By 1765, casinos began to become fashionable in France after the first one was opened in Paris featuring a world first, the Roulette wheel. But this wasn’t the only invention that became synonymous with the casino, you’ve San Francisco’s, Charles Fey to thank for that.
Classic games -poker, blackjack, baccarat- have always been popular. But the Liberty Bell of 1899 was the first slot machine of its kind and it’s been evolving since.
In fact, we can pretty much trace the modern history of casinos with Fey’s invention, initially rented out to establishments where any profit was split 50/50.
Unlike the classic games synonymous with casinos, the slot machine began life outside of such establishments. But once inside, it became as much part of the casino environment as a game of craps -even if they were banned in French casinos until 1988.
Nowadays, although land-based casinos do remain popular, it is online casinos who have truly impacted the growth and development of the gambling industry. Players now have more choice than ever online including casino sites with a variety of games, casino sites offering high pay-outs, casino sites accepting different payment methods including crypto – the options are endless.
Let’s take a look back at the early history of casino gaming and the development of casinos and games as they transformed the modern casino:
- In 1907 Herbert Mills’ knock-off Operator Bell was sold directly to establishments and -instead of Fey’s diamond, spade, and heart symbols- it used fruit on its reels.
- In 1909 San Francisco banned slot machines. So, to circumvent the law, the machines became known as ‘chewing gum dispensers’ that didn’t pay out -instead, winning reels would get you a free whiskey or a cigar, say.
- Having relocated to Chicago, Mills’ company invented a slot machine in 1916 that would pay out in one go. And with it, the word ‘jackpot’ was born.
- In 1945 slot machines were a worldwide phenomenon and getting more sophisticated. In the 1950’s electromechanical slot machines allowed for a variation of pay-outs to keep the punters glued to the reels.
- In 1951 ‘The Pokie’ as it became known, was the first slot machine that could be played remotely via a telephone, anywhere in the world. This technology pre-emptied what was to come in the following decades.
- Video slots were introduced in Las Vegas in 1975, but they didn’t prove to be that popular at first. It would seem that the physical action of pulling the mechanical lever was more of a draw than anticipated…
- So, in the late 70s, casinos literally raised the stakes by linking multiple machines to raise the jackpot to staggering heights. At the same time, other games began to appear in the casino in electronic form, such as poker at the end of the 1970s.
- In the mid-1990s everything changed. The arrival of the internet allowed gamers to play without leaving the comfort of their own homes, the casino had gone online.
- The first online casino, Intercasino, was launched in 1994. Others, such as The Gaming Club followed suit and from 1996 to 1997 the number of online casinos went from 15 to 200.
- In 1998, the first online poker games began to appear and by 1999 it was possible to play multiplayer games online. The largest prize pool for an online poker tournament was achieved at the World Series of Poker Online Tournament in 2020 for $27,559,500.
- Today, there are almost 4,800 online casino sites worth in the region of $63.5 billion. That figure is expected to hit $127 billion in as little as four years.
It’s obvious that casinos have come a long way since the invention of the roulette wheel at the end of the 18th Century. But what really changed the game, what set the precedent for the modern casino, was the slot machine.
In fact, these days slots generate somewhere between 65% to 88% of the entire bricks and mortar casino income. And that’s without taking into account specific establishments that just provide slot machines for their punters.
So, while online games have proliferated, often at the expense of land casinos, the slot machine has saved many of these traditional casinos from closure. That’s not all, many bricks and mortar establishments also have an online presence, so they get two bites of the cherry.
Or should that be, melon, lemon, grape…