The Casino – A Brief History
In a world where the word casino seems to have taken on an almost universal meaning, it may come as a surprise to learn that the actual history of casinos is far more complicated. The precise origin of gambling is difficult to pin down, but it can be traced through almost every culture on earth. From primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice to modern electronic slot machines, the casino has always offered a chance for people to try their luck.
While elaborate themes, musical shows and lighted fountains all contribute to the glamour of the modern casino, it is games of chance that bring in the customers and the billions of dollars in profits for the owners. Roulette, craps, baccarat and blackjack are among the most popular casino games. While these games involve a certain degree of skill, most are pure chance.
The earliest recorded casinos were probably in the 16th century. A gambling craze was sweeping Europe, and Italian nobles held social gatherings in venues called ridotti [Source: Schwartz]. These private clubs were technically illegal, but they were rarely bothered by the authorities. Over time, the idea caught on in other countries.
Casinos can be found in nearly every country. While most of them are land-based, a few are operated by the Internet. In either case, the facilities are designed to appeal to a particular demographic. For example, Las Vegas casinos cater to high rollers. These gamblers are affluent, often well-educated individuals with above-average incomes. They tend to be middle-aged and older, and many are married. In 2005, they accounted for 23 percent of all casino gambling revenue in the United States.
While casino gambling is legal in many countries, it is not without its problems. Gambling addiction is a serious problem, and studies indicate that compulsive gamblers generate a disproportionate amount of the industry’s profits. In addition, the costs of treating and rehabilitating problem gamblers offset any economic benefits that casinos might bring to a community.
In some places, local governments regulate and tax casinos to prevent them from becoming unwieldy bureaucracies that erode the quality of life for the area’s residents. Other places, such as Nevada and Macau, have deregulated their gambling industries in order to lure tourists. In many cases, these tourists are not only drawn to the casinos but also to the hotels, restaurants and other attractions that surround them.
Regardless of their legality, most casinos are heavily monitored for security reasons. Elaborate surveillance systems offer a high-tech “eye-in-the-sky” view of the entire facility, and can be focused on suspicious patrons by security workers in a separate room filled with monitors. Some casinos even have cameras that track the movements of individual players in the video poker games. These cameras are not used to identify cheats or thieves, but to protect the integrity of the games and the reputation of the casino. The cameras are often hidden in the ceiling, behind mirrored surfaces or recessed into the walls.