A short history of the casino industry

Casino History

The term “casino”, in the English-speaking world at least, instantly brings to mind the glittering lights of various gambling venues around the world. In truth, it is an Italian word with much humbler origins.

The traditional meaning of “casino” in Italian is a small country villa, summerhouse or pavilion. Its meaning growing in later times to include public places where events such as gambling, sports and concerts took place.

The term casino has become a global name for saloons, gambling houses, dice houses, betting shops and others, with most non-English-speaking countries understanding this word to mean the brilliance of Caesars Palace, the glittering lights of Venetian Macau or more sublime setting of Casino Lisboa, in Portugal’s capital Lisbon.

As of 2011 there were more than 3000 land-based casinos around the world, with North America coming in top with 1623 in their jurisdiction. While Las Vegas, USA, has long been the heart and soul of the casino industry, the mammoth growth of gambling in Asian countries, namely China and other developing nations such as Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, has made this a huge growth corridor for casinos.

The origins of casinos

Even the Bible mentions gambling. We’re not even going to attempt answering when that originated. But the origins of casinos as we know them today are in Venice, Italy, where the government introduced a controlled form of gambling in the mid-1600s, which ran during the carnival season.

The first documented American gambling establishments were known as saloons. There are many famous movies, mainly Westerns, in which saloons are prominent. They were a place where men passing through town would stop, gamble, drink and seek companionship.

While gambling was outlawed in the early 1900s in America, the legacy of gambling had been built in cities such as New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco, where many underground joints still ran during the time the legislation banned saloons.

When Nevada legalised gambling in 1931 it was the beginning of the casino industry as we know it today. Now Las Vegas has more than 70 casinos and is a destination for people from all round the world. Many other American states have casinos, with New Jersey’s Atlantic City the second-biggest gambling hub.

Las Vegas Sign

While Las Vegas has the prestige, the biggest gambling in the world takes place in the Chinese municipality of Macau, where there are more than 30 massive casinos, and the wealthiest businessmen from Asia flock to gamble on the ever-growing strip.

While slot machines often prove to have the biggest turnover in many casinos, they do huge business in games such blackjack, roulette, poker and Baccarat. The variety of games is growing all the time in casinos from Berlin to Monte Carlo to Sydney and beyond.

Popular casino games

While it varies from country to country, there are many games which are uniform across the world. These include classics such as blackjack, roulette, baccarat, slots and various poker games. However, there are no guarantees you will find the same rules in every casino.

Slots: Known as pokies in some countries, these can be found at many casinos and other gaming venues. They are supplied by third parties which are also forced to undergo licensing and quality control in their respective jurisdictions. Online slots, in a lot of ways, have greatly improved the traditional slot machines you find in retail casinos.

Blackjack: You won’t find a casino in the world that doesn’t have blackjack. While there are many different variations of 21 games, it is smart to find Liberal Vegas Rules, which gives the player the best chance of defeating the house. Pontoon, Spanish 21 and Pirate 21 are popular variations. Online blackjack is very much available, with it coming in both live dealer format and via random number generated games.

Roulette: European or French Roulette is what every player should be looking for. The advantage over American roulette is that there is only a single 0 on the table, rather than 00. This 00 tilts the game further in favour of the house and should be avoided if possible. Like many casino games, roulette has developed into a very popular digital game with it readily available at gambling sites. Online roulette has also spawned many different variants of the devil’s wheel, with it one of the most popular games at casino sites.

Poker: From the World Series of Poker to the big cash games in Macau, you are always sure to find poker going on in land-based casinos. Often you will find cash games with small buy-ins, or if you are looking to spend more the casino is always happy to take you on. Variants in casinos include Texas Hold’em, Omaha, 5 Card Stud and then games against the dealer such as Casino Hold’em. Often, there will be online satellites, that can you earn entry into major in-person poker tournaments. This means the online poker scene compliments the land-based poker world perfectly.

Casino Poker Betting

Can you beat a casino?

I’ve walked out of casinos a winner many times, but that does not mean you can beat a casino. You do need to remember when you’re playing casino games there is always an edge to the house. This means if you play forever with the best possible strategy over an infinite time, you will lose. There are some things you can do to increase your chances of walking out with a wallet full of Benjamins.

  • Manage your bankroll: When you walk into a casino have a set amount you are willing to spend. When you reach this limit walk away, don’t visit the cash point that second time.
  • Know when to walk away: If you’re rolling in chips after a big win, maybe the best strategy is to walk away. You didn’t come with much and now you’re well ahead. At the very least it’s smart to set aside the amount you came in with, plus a little something extra to make sure it’s a profitable trip.
  • Know how to play: It seems ridiculous that someone would put down money at a casino without knowing the rules to games, but we see it all the time. If you are going to a casino and intend gambling, it’s worth your while practising or reading up before you visit.
  • Game selection: You can seriously get screwed at many casinos. If you are going to play for serious money you need to know what the house edge is in the variant of your chosen game. If it’s significantly greater, like the difference in European and American roulette, you are selling yourself short.

Casinos in…

Many countries around the globe have got retail casinos available to their residents, but the laws and legalities surrounding gambling change a lot from place to place. In this section we will run you through some of our favourite destinations with respected casinos.


Retail: List of Irish casinos
iGaming: Best Online Casinos Ireland
Ireland does not have massive gambling venues like other places in the world, with these officially banned, but they do circumvent these laws by having Private Members Clubs. These clubs are basically smaller casinos with slots, table games and everything else you associate with gambling.

South Africa

Retail: List of South African casinos
iGaming: Top online casinos South Africa

South Africa has over 40 different retail casinos in 2023, with these dotted all over the country. Sun City Casino and Emperors Palace are two of the gambling venues you should not miss while visiting this country. South Africa is also in the throes of regulating online casino play, with many of the legal bookies now boasting games like slots and live dealer.

Top casino movies

There have been many great movies based in casinos, a lot of them revolving around the gambling scene in Las Vegas. Some of them don’t even focus so much on the gambling, rather on the party culture that surrounds the Nevada hot spot. While there are plenty more great movies featuring casinos here are a few of our favourites.

Casino: This classic film was released in 1995 and features Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone and James Woods. It is a film full of deception and greed in the casino industry. It was also directed by Martin Scorsese. It certainly ticks all the boxes.

The Cooler: You can’t have a list like this without including this William H. Macy and Maria Bello classic. Macy plays a guy who is employed by a casino to sit beside winning players and cool them off – in simpler terms he is a jinx. It’s funny, sad and romantic. Then there are Maria’s legs …

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A cult classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas follows the misadventures of two friends who go on a drug-fuelled bender to the big city. While it’s not strictly about casinos, it is one film we couldn’t leave out.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

21: A story surrounding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology blackjack team and featuring a sensational performance from Kevin Spacey, 21 is based off the award-winning book Bringing Down the House. 21 tells the story of a group of MIT students who combine to fleece Las Vegas casinos out of millions via their card counting exploits. Definitely a casino movie worth watching!

Casino reviews at the World Gambling List

In the future we will review many of the world’s gambling venues to give our readers an insight into the best casinos to visit when they are at home or on holiday. However, the fact there are more than 3000 casinos worldwide means we need some help. If you want to submit a review of a casino you have visited, you can reach the World Gambling List via our Contact Us page.