Casinos in some form have been around for a long time, though pinning down an official start date for them is more difficult. It depends on what exactly the person asking the question means by casino. Generally, when we speak about them from the vantage point of the 21st century, we think of a building that only houses certain forms of gambling – generally slot machines, along with blackjack and other card games – sports gambling is not something we think of as taking place in a casino. And of course, with the advent of the online revolution, casinos in our language now sometimes leave the building altogether, and extend into the online, which only increases the importance of the games in question in defining what a casino is – if we find slots and cards, then we think casino, inside or online.
Pinning down where the word comes from is a little easier – Casino is derived from casa, the Italian for house, and generally described a building used for public entertainment purposes (important to note that the modern Italian word is casinò – casino has multiple other meanings. In German and Spanish the word can refer to a military canteen). The idea of a casino as a place of general public entertainment continued even after our modern understanding of the word had started to form – for example, Casinoteatern in Stockholm, open from 1920-1963, had nothing to do with gambling.
So it was in those general purpose public entertainment houses that gambling generally took place, with gambling venues combined with taverns, bars and dining halls for centuries of human history. To come to what might be the first example of a casino recognisable to our modern definition of the word, we have to go to Venice in the 1600s. There, the city’s authorities had a problem – gambling had become an issue in the city, played both on the streets and in illegal gambling halls, and was too prevalent and popular to stop with force. So they came up with a solution. Il Ridotto, with a name deriving from the Italian to ‘make private’ opened as what might be the world’s first legal casino. The intention was to bring gambling in from the shadows where the authorities couldn’t keep an eye on it, and into the officially regulated arena, where it could be controlled, and revenue could be raised from it. It also allowed the city to limit who could take part. Although open to everyone in principle, Il Ridotto came with a dress code that effectively closed its doors to Venice’s poor, who could not afford the clothing required to enter. Il Ridotto enjoyed a lifespan of over one hundred years, with one of the most popular games being the card game basetta. Eventually however, the city’s government decided that Venice’s moral fibre couldn’t withstand the casino’s presence, and Il Ridotto was shut down in 1774.
Over the intervening couple of centuries, the concept of the casino has grown and developed, especially in the United States, where the casino has always been a popular form of entertainment, and the modern casino we think of today started to form, including terminology like ‘payout’ and ‘the house’. Gambling was legalised in Nevada in 1931, which led to the rise of the city of Las Vegas, known now around the world as the spiritual home of the modern casino. The casino concept spread around the world, including to the resort city of Macau in China, which now has a gaming industry seven times that of Las Vegas’, and to Europe in Monte Carlo in Monaco.
Casinos coming to Sweden was a much slower process. It wasn’t until the 90s that the state gambling commission, which heavily regulated the overall gambling market, began to explore the possibility of opening some state-run casinos in the country. After some research, the state company Casino Cosmopol was created, and casinos were opened in Malmö and Sundsvall in 2001, along with Gothenburg and Stockholm in later years. As the internet grew during the 1990s and 2000s, online casinos became part of the market, and many are now present on the scene, like Svea Casino at sveacasino.se/svenska-casinon. So whether online or around a table, casinos are now firmly embedded in Sweden’s forms of entertainment.