Gambling has been around for centuries, and in our Story of Casino, you’ll find everything you’ve ever wanted to know about casino games.
Arguably one of the world’s favorite pastimes, casino, casino games and gambling have been engraved in our society and culture for centuries. From the advent of dice to the invention of the slot machine and beyond, you’ll find facts and stats that will make your head spin like a roulette wheel.
Casino Players through the Ages
The Caesars, Emperors, Ancient Rome – Julius (100-44 B.C.) participated in public gambling during weeklong Saturnalia festival and famously proclaimed, upon crossing the Rubicon River, ‘alea iacta est’ (‘the die is cast’). Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) played alea (an early form of backgammon) and held raffles to give gifts to banquet guests. Claudius (10 B.C.-54 A.D.) had a special table made for playing dice while traveling in shaky carriages. He was such a passionate dice player that he occasionally summoned men to play with him, having forgotten that he had them executed. Caligula (12-41 A.D.) bet on chariot races and dice games, converted his imperial palace into a gambling house to raise money for the treasury, and played dice on the day of his sister’s funeral. Nero (37-68 A.D.) loved all types of sports and games, as well as betting on them, promoted gambling in the imperial palace year round, and risked massive amounts of money on rolls of dice.
Casino Players: 15th – 18th Century
Lorenzo de’ Medici, Statesman, Italy (1449-1492) – Renaissance politician in Florentine Republic who supported arts and sponsored artists. Embraced card games, some of which he created, and often mentioned casino games la bassetta and il frusso in poetry. He became known as a skilled card game player.
Casino Players: 18th -19th Century
William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, England-North America (1644-1718) – Quaker who founded the colony in North America that came to be known as Pennsylvania in the United States. A charter for the land was possibly granted to satisfy an unpaid £16,000 gambling debt owed to Penn’s father, Sir William Penn.
Voltaire, Writer, France (1694-1778) – A Historian in the French Enlightenment era was an avid gambler. When the French government instituted a lottery that only purchasers of certain bonds could enter, he devised a strategy to take advantage of the entry rules by obtaining bonds allowing maximum entries. He and his investors won a large portion of the lottery money paid out during that period. The government tried to avoid paying him but he won in court. He often played Faro (card game) and Biribi (roulette-type game with numbers drawn from a bag).
Giacomo Casanova, Memoirist-Lover, Venis, Italy (1725-1798) – An adventurer who gambled regularly, preferring Faro. He once lost 5,000 gold pieces in two days in Venice. Casanova was also a notorious womaniser who used his charm to seduce wealthy women into settling his gambling debts. He wrote about gambling in his memoirs, including sessions at Il Ridotto, a wing of Venice’s San Moisè Palace.
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, England, United Kingdom (1718-1792) – He was a dedicated game player and gambler who played marathon sessions at White’s in London. Around 1765, at White’s he invented (or popularized) the practice of eating meat between slices of bread,what started as a convenience to keep his hands clean and avoid fouling the cards became known as the sandwich.
George Washington, General/President, USA (1732-1799) – Kept a detailed diary of his wins and losses at cards.
Casino Players: 19th – 20th Century
Thomas Jefferson, President, USA (1743-1826) – Gambled regularly during the period of writing the Declaration of Independence. Recorded wins and losses at games like backgammon, lotteries, cross/pile (heads/tails), and various card games.
Jane Austen, Author, Britain (1775-1817) – Writer often used card games in novels to reveal character and personality traits. Novels like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility referred to lottery tickets, quadrille, vengt-un, whist, and piquet games.
Napoleon Bonaparte, General/Emperor, France (1769-1821) – The famous General valued games of skill, strategies of which he employed in battle. He supported casinos in France and helped popularise vingt-un. His nephew, Lucien, became successful gambler.
Archie Karas, Gambler, Greece-USA (born 1951) – A famous high roller who began as a pool shark and poker player. Karas built a $2 million bankroll at poker tables, only to lose it in Los Angeles in 1992. Archie famously went on “The Run” and turned $50 into more than $40 million in Las Vegas by the beginning of 1995. Later that year he lost it all by playing poker, craps, and baccarat.
Elmer Sherwin, US Army veteran, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (1913-2007) – Retiree who hit $4.6 million Megabucks slot machine jackpot on opening day of The Mirage in Las Vegas in 1989. 16 years later in 2005, he won his second Megabucks jackpot at the age 92 at Cannery Casino for $21.1 million.
Kerry Packer, Businessman, Australia (1937-2005) – The media tycoon who was known for founding the World Series of Cricket also owned a percentage of Melbourne’s Crown Casino. Packer, a high-stakes gambler damaged the bottom line of Las Vegas’ MGM Casino in 1997 by winning $20 million. He also lost $30 million once to a bookmaker in Sydney. Known to some as the ‘heavyweight of baccarat’.
Don Johnson, Corporate executive-casino player, USA (1962-present) – CEO of company that designs horseracing software. From 2010-2011, he won $15 million at blackjack from three Atlantic City and New Jersey casinos.
Casino Innovators through the Ages
Casino Innovators: Early Years
Alfonso X, King of Castile and León, Spain (1221-1284) – Author of the first gambling guide, the 98-page Book of Games. Mostly devoted to chess and board games but also described dice games, including hazard, a predecessor of craps.
Marco Polo, Explorer, Venice-Italy (1254-1324) – A merchant traveller who introduced Europeans to Asian cultures. Marco Polo is credited (probably incorrectly) for introducing the Chinese invention of playing cardsto Venice, from where cards spread through Europe.
Casino Innovators: 15th – 18th Century
Galileo Galilei, Astronomer & Mathematician, Florence-Italy (1564-1642) – Most famously known for his contributions to the Renaissance period including the first academic article about the probability of different combinations on three thrown dice. He undertook the subject on the request of his patron, Grand Duke Cosimo II, of Tuscany.
Giralamo Cardano, Mathematician & Inventor, Italy (1501-1576) – A Prolific writer on numerous subjects and an inquisitive gambler. Nearly a century after his death, discovery and publication in 1663 of Liber de Ludo Aleae (The Book of Games of Chance) contributed to probability theory and understanding of odds.
Blaise Pascal, Mathematician & Scientist, France (1623-1662) – Blaise Pascal developed the first calculator. Around the same time, attempts to discover perpetual motion may have led to the first roulette wheel. Pascal partnered with Pierre de Fermat to develop probability theory as a branch of mathematics and social science. Correspondence with Fermat started as a result of gambling questions asked by Chavalier de Mere.
Casino Innovators: 18th -19th Century
Francis White, Casino Operator, Britain – Born Francesco Bianco in Italy, he started what became one of London’s oldest and most exclusive gentleman’s clubs in 1693, originally as a coffee-house-type establishment called Mrs. White’s Chocolate House. White’s moved to its current location at 37-38 St. James Street in 1755. There it maintained a betting book in the 18th and 19th century known for recording unusual proposition bets. During that period, members also played faro and hazard on the premises.
Edmund Hoyle, Writer, Britain (1672-1769) – Hoyle was a gambling specialist who wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, a standard for numerous card games for hundreds of years. He wrote follow-up books on backgammon, chess, and other games. Highly regarded for game knowledge, leading to the expression, ‘According to Hoyle’.
Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, Bath Master of Ceremonies, Britain (1674-1761) The pioneer of the position of casino host. Richard Nash served as Master of Ceremonies for the spa town of Bath from 1704 until his death in 1761.
Casino Innovators: 19th – 20th Century
Jacques Benazet, Casino Operator, France-Germany (1778-1848) – He operated numerous gambling clubs in France and Germany, most famously Baden-Baden in 1838. Under his leadership, followed by his son Edward and his nephew, the popularity of Baden-Baden as a casino-spa destination soared and remains a top attraction for gamblers to this day.
Antoine Chabert, Casino Owner & Operator, France-Germany (1774-1850) – Owned Palais Royale in Paris before taking over Conversation House in Baden-Baden, where he doubled its number of visitors. Chabert also managed numerous German casinos over his lifetime.
François Blanc, Casino Operator, Germany-Monaco (1806-1877) – With his twin brother Louis Blanc(1806-1854), François became the most famous and successful operator of casinos in the 19th century. The Blanc brothers opened Kursaal in Bad Homburg in 1843, introduced single-zero roulette, and Francois opened the Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco in 1868. François was so successful he was nicknamed ‘The Magician of Monte Carlo’ and a legend started that he made a deal with the devil for his astounding good fortune.
Sol Kerzner, Investor & Casino Owner-Operator, South Africa (born 1935) – Kerzner purchased and built numerous hotels and resorts globally. He built Western Hemisphere properties including Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, USA, and Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in Bahamas.
Steve Wynn, Investor & Casino Owner-Operator, USA (born 1942) – American casino builder and operator, responsible for revitalizing downtown Las Vegas with 1970s renovation of the Golden Nugget. Wynn built the first new Las Vegas Strip casino in two decades in 1989, The Mirage. He also built Bellagio, Wynn, Encore, and other U.S. casinos, along with Wynn Macau.