The world’s first true casino opened in Venice, Italy in 1638, just in time for the city’s Spring Carnival. It was called “The Ridotto,” and it occupied a four-story building within Venice’s San Moisé Palace, converted especially for legal gambling. In their wisdom, the members of the city’s Great Council had realized a prohibition on gambling during the festival would be futile; the citizens were simply too enamored of cards, dice, and lotteries. So instead, they decided to give their people a place to play, where commissions could be earned for the municipality—the first gaming tax, of sorts.
Among the special rules at the Ridotto, everyone except nobility had to wear a Carnival mask. Operating hours were extended till midnight, and the players wagered under huge chandeliers full of candles. Refreshments that were sold by the authorities made a tidy profit, and commissions on game stakes brought government sizeable revenues.
By 1768, the Ridotto was an entrenched aspect of Venetian life, and the San Cassian Theatre was selected as the venue for a second legal gambling house. Games enjoyed then—Basset, Panfil, and Biribisso—have long since disappeared and given way to others, but the concept of state-controlled gaming has survived and thrived, not only in Italy but the world over.
This was especially true in late 18th-century Monte Carlo, the legal gambling quarter of a tiny sovereign nation, Monaco, which was eager for new sources of income. Parisians and other Europeans, who were not allowed to gamble in their own countries, flocked to this resort on the Riviera to wager on Baccarat and the newest fad in table games—Roulette. The “little wheel” was exported to New Orleans around the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. From there, it traveled on riverboats and via wagon trains to mining camps, frontier towns, and eventually San Francisco, where the slot machine was invented in 1898.
Meanwhile, a 19th-century French card game called vingt-et-un or “twenty-one” became popular, as did the British version of an ancient dice game called Hazard. In the United States, the rules were changed slightly and the games were given new names: Blackjack and Craps. These soon joined Roulette and replaced “Faro” as the main table games in the burgeoning casinos of Europe and the United States. Today, along with Baccarat and slot machines, they are still the world’s favorite casino activities.
The epicenter of casino gaming has shifted over the years from Monte Carlo to Las Vegas to Macau. These three venues are far and away from the top destinations for those who wish to play table games and slot machines with confidence. But they are certainly not the only ones. With the increase in gambling facilities operated by Native American tribes and the legalization of gaming activities in smaller nations, most of the world is now located within a day trip to the nearest casino.
Today, there are an estimated 2,000 legal casinos operating in Europe and another 1,800 in North America. Oceania has nearly 500; Central and South America have about 400, and Asia and Africa count around 200 each. Casinos have been set up on cruise ships, passenger trains, and even a few airplanes. The islands of the Caribbean feature well over 120 casinos in 17 different principalities.
What makes the establishment of a real casino preferable to throwing dice on a street corner or inviting folks home to play cards is the state’s ability to regulate games and their organizers. Standards can be established and monitored. Authorities can protect players from scams. Licensing, bonding, and auditing ensure that only fair play occurs. And unlike Pkv casino gaming a virtual gaming site, bricks-and-mortar casinos cannot be easily created or moved.
Should a player feel cheated, he/she has access to direct recourse when playing at a real casino. Just a word to customer service is typically all it takes to set matters right. Otherwise, complaints can be filed with the local gaming control board, whose members take their regulatory role quite seriously and typically seek fast equitable resolution. Casinos also prefer to avoid any negative publicity and are usually quick to make restitution.
Knowing the pros and cons, most casinos take extra care to offer fair games. And why wouldn’t they? With a house advantage of 1%~3% on every deal, roll, or spin, they stand to gain pennies on each and every dollar played. Their main interest is increasing the volume of business. That’s the surest way to gain more revenues, so they guard against any notion of impropriety.
In fact, most casinos take great delight in announcing big winners and publishing high payout percentages. It’s all part of a marketing strategy, and they are willing to give away free drinks, food, and even room nights to bring players to the casino floor.
Those who make a regular habit of frequenting casinos quickly learn the etiquette of live play, when to request comps (free services) and how to use promotional opportunities, such as players’ clubs and loyalty points, to their best advantage. And new players should know that they are courted by casino management with almost as much fervor as the “high rollers” who spend big bucks. Again, it is in the casino’s best interest to make sure players have a positive experience and keep coming back. That’s where the money is…and the fun.