A History of Casino Games & Culture
Casino games appear to be very modern, don’t they? The technology behind slots, the casino industry’s juggernaut, the twenty-first-century world of online casino games. It’s difficult to imagine a world without casinos and gambling.
Casino Games in the (Very) Early Years
Gambling existed before recorded history. Around 3,000 BC, the first six-sided dice were discovered. These were based on divination markers that were thousands of years older, and we know that gambling games were popular in Mesopotamia and Ancient China.
What have the Romans done for casino games?
Julius Caesar famously declared “the die is cast” after crossing the Rubicon and beginning his campaign to become dictator of Rome. This concept was not alien to wealthy Romans, who frequently gambled in public during the Saturnalia festival.
This was clearly a family hobby. Augustus, his nephew (and the first Emperor of Rome), was known for holding raffles at lavish banquets. He also played alea, a Roman game that was an early form of backgammon. Emperor Claudius was a notorious dice player, and Caligula was a big gambler as well. He even turned his imperial palace into a casino.
Craps may have originated in Ancient Rome, according to some historians. Soldiers would play dice with pig knuckles and an upturned shield as a table. Even after two thousand years, we still refer to dice games as “knucklebones.”
The King of Casino Games
Alfonso X of Castile and León reigned from 1252 until he died in 1284 in Spain. He wrote the Book of Games, the first known gambling guide. The book has 98 pages and is mostly about chess and board games. However, Alfonso also described hazard as a precursor to modern-day craps.
Exploring the world of casino games
Marco Polo is perhaps history’s most famous explorer, known for introducing Asian cultures and inventions to Europe. Italy would not have pasta without him. He is credited with introducing playing cards to Europe after they were invented in China around the ninth century.
Heads of state and gambling through the ages
It wasn’t just the Roman Emperors and early Spanish kings who liked to gamble – it’s a pastime shared by a few US Presidents, all the way back to the first.
George Washington’s diaries contain detailed accounts of his card games, and his successor, Thomas Jefferson, gambled on backgammon and cards regularly. Harry Truman famously bet Winston Churchill a large sum of money in a poker game.
Casino’s Early Innovators
Card Games by Cardano
Girolamo Cardano was a mathematician and inventor from Italy. He was also a prolific author, and his posthumously published The Book of Games of Chance established a solid foundation for the mathematical field of probability theory and modern-day odds.
The man who invented roulette
We’ve previously discussed Blaise Pascal’s contribution to the world of casinos. In his attempts to create a perpetual motion machine, the French mathematician is credited with inventing the roulette wheel. We all like roulette, but it would have been better for the world if he had been successful in those attempts instead.
From chocolate and coffee to casino games and craps
White’s, which has been on St James Street since 1755, is one of London’s oldest and most exclusive clubs. Before that, it was Mrs. White’s Chocolate House, a coffee shop founded in 1693. Francis White was born Francesco Bianco in Italy. He anglicized his name after moving to London.
Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, White’s kept a betting book and hosted games of chance and proposition bets, making it one of England’s oldest gaming establishments.
Politics, poetry, prop bets
Lorenzo de’ Medici was a Florentine Republic Renaissance politician. As a supporter of the arts, he played and invented numerous card games, which he frequently mentioned in his poetry. Throughout the state, he was known as a card sharp.
Modern-Day Casino Innovators
Of course, casino development did not stop in the 1600s. Many people have come up with ground-breaking ideas for casino games in recent years.
You may not have heard of Benny Binion, but the fact is that you would not be reading this if he had not existed. Binion established The Horseshoe and pioneered innovations such as comping big players, providing free drinks on casino floors, and adjusting games to keep whales coming back.
The World Series of Poker, on the other hand, is his legacy. He founded the tournament in 1970, which sparked the Poker Boom decades later, and thus the establishment of companies such as PokerStars. Thank you, Benny!
Howard Hughes was an inventor, aviator, filmmaker, and business mogul who is now best known for his rapid mental decline. His germaphobia developed into mania and mental illness, and he disappeared from public view for several years.
He is largely responsible for transforming Las Vegas into the city it is today. His ownership of several large casinos in Las Vegas significantly contributed to the city’s transition from mafia control to corporate ownership.
Charles Fey, a German-born machinist, invented the first mechanical three-reel slot machines using his electronics knowledge. The Liberty Bell, his invention, paid a $0.20 jackpot ($7 today) for matching three bell symbols.
Johnson made his living as the CEO of a horse racing software company rather than as an innovator. However, he is best known in New Jersey as the man who won over $15,000,000 playing blackjack between 2011 and 2015.
Casino Games in Book, Film, And Song
Casino games and gambling have a massive cultural impact. People have made countless films, songs, and books about the world of casinos. Here are a few of my personal favourites.
Rain Man (1988)
Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as the autistic genius Raymond Babbitt isn’t a casino film in and of itself. Still, the inspiring story of brotherly love contains one of the most famous casino scenes of all time, shot on location at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Raymond’s mathematical prowess is used by his brother to win large sums of money while counting cards at blackjack.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1954)
The character of James Bond was inextricably linked to casinos and gambling in the first James Bond novel. The novel begins with Bond playing high-stakes roulette, and the novel’s overarching plot revolves around a baccarat tournament. In the 2005 film based on the novel, Daniel Craig played Bond, and baccarat was replaced by No-Limit Hold’em.
Ocean’s 11, Then and Now (1960 and 2001)
The original Ocean’s 11 starred the core of Hollywood’s Rat Pack: Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, and Joey Bishop. Lawford acquired the story’s original rights. When he presented the plot to Frank Sinatra, Sinatra joked, “Forget the movie; let’s pull the job!”
The 2001 remake starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts. It spawned several sequels as well as an all-female remake. During the original film’s production, Sinatra performed shows in casinos in-between days of filming.
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
The renowned author of Crime and Punishment also wrote this book, which, like its author, spends a lot of time at roulette tables and other gambling establishments. Dostoevsky, a notorious gambler, wrote this novel to pay off his large gambling debts.
Martin Scorsese’s film about mobsters Ace Rothstein and Nick Santoro was a brutally violent depiction of the mafia’s control of Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s. Based on the true stories of mobsters such as Anthony Spilotro, the film stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone, who won a Golden Globe for her performance.
The Gambler by Kenny Rogers (1978)
Not only is this classic a banger, but knowing when to fold and when to hold and never counting your money while at the table are sound strategies, so the lyrics are chock-full of poker advice.
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Alvin “Titanic” Thompson, one of the most famous gamblers of all time, inspired this film and musical. This road gambler would wager on anything and everything, including golf, dice, pool, and proposition bets.