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Just How Old is Casino Gaming? A Potted History

Penny January 5, 2024

There are several industries and pastimes that we often forget have had the staying power to last centuries. It’s easy to look at the digital world we live in and think that what we enjoy now is a product of a much more recent time. Almost every one of the things people have enjoyed throughout the ages has been touched by an ever-changing world that has seen technological advancement after technological advancement. With that said, one of those industries that are particularly storied but often overlooked for their longevity is the casino.

Pai Gow gambling

Ever since the internet age brought with it the complete overhaul of online casino gaming, it’s seemed more and more a product of the modern times it finds itself in. But that is to disregard centuries of tradition, hard work, and a lot of fun.

A Tale as Old as Time: Ancient Civilizations

When looking back at some of the ancient civilizations that have developed the planet into what we now find, you likely won’t find what a modern-day gambler would describe as a casino. Instead, though, you’ll find more loosely connected forms of gaming and gambling. In Ancient China, Tien Gow, a dice or dominoes game that is believed to be the origin of playing card suits, has now been played for around a millennium. According to a University of Waterloo report, the game was standardized in the 1100s. That means that this game was invented around as close to the birth of Christ as it is to the modern casino. That it helped inspire what would become the playing cards we see today is an indication of its influence on how we play and gamble today. Without the developments that it helped usher in, in the form of standardized playing cards or dominoes, it’s impossible to imagine that a game like poker would ever be able to find itself a place at the table, but of course now we see that it’s part of casino gaming history.


In Ancient Rome, games were also played with dice. However, what is more interesting is that, while the authorities at the time saw it fit to enforce some loose gambling regulations, betting on sporting events was in no way legislated for. That meant that between friends and small groups, betting on events like gladiatorial games and other such displays of physical strength were not restricted, according to University of Nevada research. That could be described then as the first real form of sports betting, something which would come to form the backbone of many casinos, particularly in the United States. Now, and throughout Las Vegas’ fairly recent history, the casino has become home to sportsbooks, as well as hosting spectacles of brute force and strength in the form of high-profile boxing bouts. It’s easy to see, then, why Vegas venues took inspiration from Rome and its colosseums.

The First Recognizable Casino Floor

Unsurprisingly, early games were not played in the lavish venues that we picture when we think of the industry now. Those ancient times were a more slapdash approach to gaming and would happen mostly in pubs or private houses. Fast forward many centuries, though, and we begin to see the emergence of the homes of gambling. The word casino comes from the Italian word “casa”, meaning “house” and it was in Italy in the 17th century that the Ridotto was established in an effort to oversee regulated gambling in Venice. The venue would be open to punters throughout the traditional carnival season and, though it would eventually be closed due to its perceived ill effects on local society, it marked the first real foray into modern gambling as we know it today. Upon its opening, How Stuff Works reports that it was a grand four-storey venue with a host of different card games, as well as rooms for refreshments. This doesn’t sound too unlike what you would expect from one of Nevada’s staples of the Strip.


As time went on, the idea of ridotti grew and developed into a sprawling behemoth of gaming, entertainment, and leisure. Perhaps the most significant development since that first ever European gaming-specific venue in casino gaming history was the building of the Las Vegas Strip’s first casino resort in 1941. El Rancho Vegas brought with it the growth of an internationally-recognized gambling destination. The city now welcomes millions of visitors from across the world every year and has played the backdrop for some of the biggest gaming and sporting events in history. If you were to ask people where they associate most with gambling and the casino, this is the first city that many would land on. But that wouldn’t be possible were it not for the humble dice games of ancient civilizations and Italy’s first-ever dedicated gaming house. 

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