Casinos, and the gambling industry in general, are huge across the globe. But where did it all start? Why are cards dealt from a ‘shoe’? Why are fruit machines called fruit machines? Read on to find out answers to these questions and many more that you didn’t realize you wanted to know!
Where was the first casino?
Gambling in general has been around for eons. The ancient Romans and Greeks had various games they would bet on, even classical philosopher Aristotle wrote about the probabilities of dice and the word dice itself comes from the ancient Greek word ‘dike’ which means ‘to throw’.
The first modern gambling house was the Ridotto, established by the Great Council of Venice in Italy, 1638, to control gambling during carnivals. The word ‘casino’ itself dates back to 18th century Italy and means ‘a little house’. Whereas the first online casino threw open its virtual doors during the heyday of 90s internet boom in 1996 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sandwiches were invented in a casino!
The fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, is credited with inventing the world’s most popular lunchtime meal whilst on a twenty-four hour gambling streak. The story goes that as not to interrupt his game, he told his chef to prepare his meal with the usual components, but between two slices of fresh bread, to make it easier to eat with one hand whilst gambling with the other! A tasty idea if ever there was one!
When were slots invented, and why fruit machines?
The first slot machine was created in 1895 by inventor Charles Fey from San Francisco, America. His machine was called ‘Liberty Bell’ and was set up in his automobile shop where customers could amuse themselves whilst waiting for their cars to be fixed!
Originally, slot machines dished out prizes, rather than cash, such as drinks, food, and cigarettes. The most common being the fruit machines, so named because of the fruity symbols on the reels and the facts that they actually rewarded winners with fruit-flavored chewing gum!
Nevada State Prison used to have its own Casino!
The gambling industry is so big in the US state of Nevada, that the notorious penitentiary state prison actually had its own casino for 35 long years, between 1932 and 1967. Based in the prison grounds in Carson City, in a stone building called the ‘The Bull Pen’, inmates could enjoy a wide variety of games including poker, blackjack, craps, gin rummy, and even bet on sporting events with the prison’s own form of currency! It was a slick operation, that helped entertain prisoners and encourage good behavior, though woe betide any that tried to cheat in a game! Sadly for the inmates, it was closed down when a new warden declared gambling to be ‘degradation’.
How did Las Vegas become a gambling destination?
When you think of casinos, you think of the Las Vegas strip. The very first legal casino license issued in the city was to a lady named Mayme Stoker in 1920 for her casino the ‘Northern Club’. Mayme was a mother and a regular name in local society pages.
Her club offered a variety of games, including lowball poker, stud poker, draw poker, 500, and bridge. The Las Vegas strip – incidentally in Paradise, not actually Las Vegas proper – grew in the 1950s, partly helps by the U.S. Department of Energy testing nuclear bombs 65 miles northwest of the city.
Tourists would flock to the city to watch the mushroom clouds erupt and the local Chamber of Commerce began to promote events such as atomic bomb parties and the ‘Miss. Atomic Energy’ beauty pageant – with contestants wearing mushroom cloud outfits – to pull in punters!
Although many in the world still class Las Vegas as the home of gambling, Chinese territory Macau is the largest gambling city in the world, making on average five times more revenue per year from their casinos than The Strip!
Where did the names come from?
Many people are aware of various names and phrases relating to casinos, but they’re not always aware of where the names originated. For example, the dealer’s shoe – used to hold multiple decks of cards to deal from – is so named because early versions resembled ladies’ shoes, usually in an attractive red or black color.
What about Poker? Well it’s most likely the name comes from the Irish word ‘poca’ which means pocket, or the French word ‘poque’ which originated from the German word ‘pochem’ that means ‘to bluff’, both possibilities make sense.
You can take a ride in the world’s smallest casino!
Thrill seekers looking to try something new, may enjoy a visit to the world’s smallest casino. Unlike most casinos, this little gem is not based in a building, but in the back of a London Black Cab! The Grosvenor Casino in Birmingham, U.K., launched the mobile casino – complete with gaming table, dealer, bar, and a T.V. showing sporting events - in a bid to raise funds for charities.
Customers can travel to any destination in the city, whilst enjoying a flutter, if they donate to the worthy cause. Or they can get a lift to the casino itself. The compact casino also did a tour of major U.K. cities, giving people from across Great Britain the chance to enjoy this unique experience and raise some cash for a very good cause.
The longest poker game lasted for nearly a decade!
The longest ever game of poker took place in ‘The Bird Cage Theater’, in Tombstone, Arizona – a small town centered around the local silver mines. The theater opened its doors on December 26, 1881 by owners Lottie and William "Billy" Hutchinson, variety and vaudeville entertainers.
However, the local mining community weren’t such big fans of the variety shows and quickly the entertainment turned to gambling in the basement of the building. The longest game in history began in 1881 and entrance into the tournament cost a tidy sum of $1,000 – an amount out of reach for average people – meaning this game had some notable players, including famous names such as: George Hearst, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolphus Busch, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp.
The game was played continuously for 24 hours a day and lasted for an astonishing 8 years, five months and three days! Rumor has it that as much as $10,000,000 changed hands during the tournament.
Can you gamble in Japan?
Well, the answer to that question is yes and no. Gambling in Japan is subject to very strict laws. People can bet on ‘kōei kyōgi’ (sports bets) that are: horse racing, bicycle racing, powerboat racing, asphalt speedway motorcycle racing; and recently sumo and baseball.
Lotteries, known as ‘Takarakuji’, are legal and run by local government to raise funds. Pachinko parlours are arguably the most interesting by-product of the strict gambling laws; pachinko machines are similar to pinball and slot machines, players must get little silver balls into holes to win a jackpot. The difference between slots and pachinko is that you don’t win cash, but instead win pachinko balls.
Players can exchange balls for prizes such as alcohol or toys, or ‘prize tokens’ that can be taken to a nearby shop and exchanged for cash. As the cash is given at a different premises, pachinko parlours are not classed as gambling, despite the fact that often the shops that ‘buy’ the tokens are owned by the pachinko parlour owners!
Will Japan ever have a ‘proper’ casino? Well, in July 2018, a bill was approved for building three resorts including casinos, although players will be charged ¥6,000 ($40) to gain entry and will be restricted to no more than three visits per week, or ten visits per month. So, only the wealthier Japanese will be able to enjoy a visit to these new casinos once they’ve been built.
The devil’s game?
The word ‘Roulette’ comes from the French for ‘little wheel’ – which is self-explanatory. Roulette is generally believed to have been invented by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and Catholic theologian who lived in the 16th century.
Though some historians say there is evidence that similar games were played in ancient China using spinning stones and by ancient Romans who played spinning their shields or chariot wheels. The devilish link comes from the ‘Magician of Homberg’ – Francois Blanc - who famously operated the infamous Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco. Some say that he made a fateful deal with the devil to learn the secrets of the Roulette and why the numbers added up to the number of the beast – 666!