The History Behind 10 Famous Casinos

Venice, Monaco, Singapore … pair exotic destinations like these with casinos, and unforgettable experiences are promised.

Gambling in all its many forms, from the casual bet to the most complex of table games, has been a part of human civilization for millennia. Evidence dates back to 2300 BC China, after archeologists’ discovery of wooden blocks used in games of chance.

Dice showed up in Rome around 500 BC and playing cards hit the scene in 800 AD. It wasn’t until the 1400s that the first game still held at many modern-day casinos—baccarat—first rose to prominence, and it was followed quickly (relative to the timeline of human history) in the very early 1600s by what would, in the 20th century, become known as blackjack.

Italy had the honor of the world’s first gambling house, or casino, which was sanctioned by government decree in 1638 as a means of controlling people’s propensity for gambling.

Today, thousands of casinos exist worldwide. In the U.S. alone, there are 466 commercial casinos and 515 tribal casinos as of December 2021, per the American Gaming Association. In 2020, the gambling world was hit hard by COVID-19.

Whereas the AGA’s 2022 report stated that 2019 ushered in a record $43.63 billion in gaming revenues, 2020 brought in less than $30 billion. The following year, however, the industry rebounded, hitting a new record high of $53.03 billion, proving that gambling, like construction and medicine, is an evergreen industry.

And this is not merely true in the United States—IBIS World estimates that the global casino and online gambling industry has a market size of $231 billion and employs just north of 1 million people across the world.

OLBG looked at the history behind the world’s most famous casinos. Based on their reputation and impact, here are 10 that made an indelible mark, listed by opening date.

View of Casino di Venezia from the canal
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Casino di Venezia

– Location: Venice, Italy
– Date opened: 1638

The word casino originated in Italy, as did the world’s oldest casino—Casino di Venezia. As casino locations go, they don’t get much more romantic than this one, which is set on Venice’s Grand Canals. How do guests arrive? By a free boat shuttle service, or on foot.

Though gambling was always a mainstay at Casino di Venezia, it was originally known as the Theatre Saint Moses, where a casino, then called Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, was in full swing during performance intermissions. After several iterations, including as the home to an Italian royal family and the German composer Richard Wagner, the Mauro Codussi-designed building was eventually purchased by the city of Venice in 1959 and has been operating solely as a casino ever since.

On tap for players are 600 slot machines and table games, including French roulette, chemin de fer and punto banco, fair roulette, blackjack, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker. As of July 1, 2022, individual progressive jackpots available for players to win totaled €2,009,157 ($2,024,798).

Exterior of Casino de Monte Carlo in 1880
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Casino de Monte-Carlo

– Location: Monaco
– Date opened: 1865

Monaco’s Casino de Monte-Carlo is legendary. Movie buffs often equate elegant gambling with this lavish casino—along with a certain international spy who likes his martinis shaken, not stirred. Indeed, Casino de Monte-Carlo has been featured in several James Bond films, including “Never Say Never Again” and “GoldenEye.” Its name in these films: The Casino Royale Monte Carlo.

The Belle Époque-style Casino de Monte-Carlo holds sway above the Mediterranean Sea and makes its presence known in the principality of Monaco’s Place du Casino. French architect Gobineau de la Bretonnerie designed the original grand dame. With its success came expansion, including the addition of the adjoining Monte Carlo Opera, designed by French architect Charles Garnier, which opened in 1879.

Beyond the casino’s ambiance, gamblers are lured by its almost 600 slot machines and table games that include blackjack, craps, English roulette, French roulette, The French Live roulette, punto banco, poker, Texas Hold’em Ultimate, and Split Aces.

1960s night scene of Stardust Casino
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The Stardust Casino Hotel and Resort

– Location: Las Vegas
– Date opened: 1958

The Stardust Casino Hotel and Resort debuted in 1958, capturing two titles in the process: the world’s largest hotel and the world’s largest electric sign. The resort was impressive with its 16,500-square-foot casino, 140-foot bar, and 105-foot swimming pool, along with 1,000 guest rooms. Perhaps even more dazzling was Stardust’s famous showgirls act directly from France—Le Lido de Paris. Over the course of its lifetime, the Stardust property would expand to include another 500 rooms, a racetrack and rodeo grounds, a drive-in movie theater, a bus depot, and a gambling museum.

The Stardust’s mob ties were the subject of Nicholas Pileggi’s book “Casino,” which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film by Martin Scorsese. The Nevada Gaming Control Board seized the property and ousted four crime families for skimming profits upwards of $2 million in 1983.

The Stardust would change hands again, coming under the ownership of Boyd Gaming Corporation. It remained popular for several years but couldn’t compete with new mega-resorts springing up on the Las Vegas Strip. The Stardust closed on Nov. 1, 2006, with patrons bidding it goodbye by performing a conga line out the door to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” In March 2007, the structure was imploded.

Rising from the ashes of the former Stardust property in July 2021 was the new Resorts World Las Vegas, launched by the Malaysian-based Genting Group. Paying homage to Stardust is Resorts World’s Starlight On 66 lounge, as well as a painting and sculpture salvaged from the former property. Also, finding new homes with Resorts World are 100 trees from their former Stardust Casino Hotel and Resort home. The Neon Museum is now home to the original Stardust’s magnificent neon sign.

Exterior of Caesars Palace in 1967
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Caesars Palace

– Location: Las Vegas
– Date opened: 1966

With the 1966 opening of Caesars Palace, the $25 million, 14-story hotel and casino took its place as the twelfth major hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Over the next 50 years, the property would expand to include six towers of accommodations and the sprawling 636,000-square-foot Forum Shops at Caesars for upscale shopping. Today, it’s known as Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, or simply Caesars, and it has five towers and over 3,500 accommodations, including luxury villas.

Live entertainment has long been a hallmark at Caesars. In 1968, Frank Sinatra began performing at Caesars Circus Maximus Showroom. When an argument with a casino manager resulted in a gun being pulled on him in 1970, Sinatra refused to play the venue again until 1974. Fast forward and Circus Maximus was transformed into The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, home of famous Vegas residencies to luminaries such as Celine Dion, Elton John, Cher, Bette Midler, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, and Sting.

Gamblers are drawn by Caesars’ 1,324 slot machines and 185 table games, including blackjack, roulette, and craps, along with a slew of poker games from Texas Hold’ Em Bonus Poker to Pai Gow and Let It Ride.

Some fun facts about Caesars: the $25-million-dollar property was purchased for $9.4 billion in 2005, and it was featured in the 2009 film “The Hangover.”

Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

Bellagio Hotel & Casino

– Location: Las Vegas
– Date opened: 1998

When Steve Wynn’s Bellagio opened on Oct. 15, 1998, on the site of Vegas’ former Dunes Hotel, it was touted as being the world’s most expensive casino resort with a price tag of $1.6 billion. The casino resort’s Italian thematic design was a tip of the hat to a village in Northern Italy of the same name. Ushering in new guests was a 36-story tower with 3,025 rooms and a 156,000-square-foot casino. Under new ownership in 2004, a 330-story tower with 928 rooms was added.

Already garnering oohs and ahhs at Bellagio’s grand opening were the property’s now-iconic Fountains of Bellagio as they performed their first 30-minute show. Also debuting that evening was Bellagio’s resident Cirque du Soleil production “O,” which is still going strong today.

Despite a bounty of attractions, those with a love for gaming made beelines to Bellagio’s Megabucks slot machines promising a $24 million jackpot. Today, the casino hosts blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat, three card poker, Pai Gow, Pai Gow Poker, and Let It Ride. On its slot floor are more than 2,300 reel, video reel, and video poker games. At play in Bellagio’s poker room are No Limit Hold’ Em, Limit Hold’ Em, Pot Limit Omaha, 7 Card Stud, and mixed games.

Exterior view of the WinStar World Casino and Resort
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WinStar World Casino and Resort

– Location: Thackerville, Oklahoma
– Date opened: 2003

At 400,000 square feet, the WinStar World Casino, which sits on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, holds the title of largest casino in the United States. Its 1991 origins were a bit more diminutive, as a bingo hall run by the Chickasaw Nation. In 2003, the venue officially opened as the 190,000-square-foot WinStar Casino. In 2008, the Chickasaw Nation rebranded the property as WinStar World Casino, having doubled the casino’s size to 380,000 square feet.

In 2012, another 62,000 square feet was added with the launch of WinStar’s Rome Gaming Plaza. 2013 saw the opening of the 56,000-square-foot London Gaming Plaza. There are currently nine gaming plazas with global themes, including Cairo, Vienna, Rio, Paris, New York, Madrid, and Beijing.

So, what kind of gaming is afoot in the 400,000 square feet of gaming plazas? WinStar World Casino and Resort has more than 10,000 electronic games and nearly 100 table games, including blackjack, craps, roulette, mini-baccarat, and Ultimate Texas Hold’ Em, along with a 55-table poker room.

The Venetian Macao hotel and casino resort sign in Macau
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The Venetian Macao

– Location: Macau
– Date opened: 2007

When the $2.4 billion Venetian Macao Resort opened on Macau’s Cotai Strip in August 2007, the New York Times declared that the resort had “more floor space than four Empire State Buildings” and that its casino was “more than three times the size of the largest casino in Las Vegas.” At 550,000 square meters (5,920,150 square feet), said casino is the world’s largest. Modeled on its Vegas predecessor, Venetian Macao has gondolas skimming through canals and a replica of St. Mark’s Square, as well as curved escalators in the main rotunda.

As for Venetian Macao’s casinos, there are four themed areas—Golden Fish, Imperial House, Red Dragon, and Phoenix. On tap in the casino are 800 table games, over 3,000 slot machines, and the Paiza Club for high rollers and VIPs.

Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore
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Marina Bay Sands

– Location: Singapore
– Date opened: 2010

If the name Marina Bay Sands conjures thoughts of Las Vegas, this is no mistake. The integrated resort, which is located at Singapore’s Bayfront MRT Station in the Central Business District, is owned by Las Vegas Sands. When it opened in 2010, Marina Bay Sands was deemed the world’s most expensive standalone casino property, with a construction and development price tag of $5.7 billion.

There are four levels within the casino and plenty of gaming to be had, starting with over 2,300 slot machines. Table games include Sic Bo, blackjack, several variations of baccarat, craps, Pontoon Pandemonium, roulette, Royal Three Pictures, and poker. The casino’s upper-level houses exclusive salons designated as High Limit, Ruby, and Paiza areas with over 200 games.

Be on the lookout in 2026 when the Marina Bay Sands unveils its $3.3 billion expansion set to include a fourth tower with 1,000 accommodations, a sky roof with a pool and restaurant, a performance space, ballrooms, exhibition halls, and luxury retail space.

The London Hippodrome building
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Hippodrome Casino

– Location: London
– Date opened: 2012

This Leicester Square landmark with a storied past is growing with the future, as visitors will notice with the summer 2022 opening of a $3.69 million expansion devoted to food and beverage offerings.

As for its past, the Hippodrome made news as far back as 1900 when it was a well-known circus theatre “with a 100,000-gallon pool with elephants, polar bears, and carriages pulled by racing teams of horses.” From Harry Houdini to the first performance of Swan Lake to Judy Garland’s famous five-week residency in 1968, the Hippodrome stage has titillated audiences over the years. In 2012, the venue’s casino was unveiled, featuring five floors of gaming.

The Hippodrome has three uniquely themed casinos featuring world-class table gaming, electronic games, slots, and an entire floor dedicated to poker. The Hippodrome is the only casino in central London with a dice table. The Global Gaming Awards made their comeback at the Hippodrome this year after being canceled due to COVID-19. The Hippodrome came away with the award for Best Casino.

Exterior of Ibiza Gran Hotel and Casino of Ibiza
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Casino de Ibiza

– Location: Ibiza, Spain
– Date opened: 2014

The Ibiza Gran Hotel opened in 2011 and was by all accounts a hospitality and destination success from the get-go. By 2014, the island property was ready to make headlines again by upgrading its casino space, which it did, along with establishing noteworthy collaborators, such as restaurateurs Albert and Ferran Adrià and Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté.

When Casino de Ibiza’s expansion made its debut in 2015, its restaurants and entertainment venues were as lauded as its gaming spaces. As for the latter, the casino’s gaming room offers American roulette, blackjack, and Ultimate Texas Hold’Em. In addition, there are over 100 different games in the Casino Bar’s slot machine room, including 60 machines offering video reels and a high-limit slots area.

This story originally appeared on OLBG and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.