Gambling is as old as society. The Chinese first rolled dice. The Romans wagered on gladiators and lions. The English bet in card games.
Human beings in many cultures have been betting on all kinds of things from individuals and teams to horses and dogs.
The first legalized gambling house was launched in 1626. Venetian high society met in so-called little houses to indulge in everything from business dealings and politics to gambling and more carnival pleasures.
Southwest Germany is home to the first legal casino. It opened in 1765 in Baden. Its successor, Kurhaus Baden-Baden, was constructed in the early 1820s where the first casino stood, thanks to Fredrich Weinbrenner, and opened in 1824.
In 1776, sanctioned by the infant United States government, legal gambling was used in a variety of ways to raise money for the young country breaking away from the English.
Two hundred years later, casinos were only allowed in Nevada while New Hampshire was the lone state with a lottery. By 1992, there were 40 state lotteries. And casino gambling spread to three other states while 28 had agreements with Indian tribal nations to allow gambling.
Napoleon legalized French casinos in 1806. The gambling houses introduced luxury and comfort as managers began restricting access to a selected clientele.
Monaco, encountering financial troubles in 1860, opened glamorous Monte Carlo to boost the declining economy.
Germany’s largest casino was taken over in 1838 by Jacques BÃ?Â©nazet, lessee of the gaming rooms in the Paris Palais Royal until they were shut down.
The main gaming area is still known as the Weinbrenner Room. The stately Kurhaus rooms include BÃ?Â©nazet Hall and the Hall of Mirrors where galas, concerts and lectures are held.
After his father died, Edouard BÃ?Â©nazet took command in 1848. Calling on his prominent associations, he arranged for famous musicians and actors to come to Baden-Baden. After the casino was rebuilt in 1855, new gaming rooms were created in the right wing by interior decorators and artists from Paris.
In 1872, the national government in Berlin ordered all German casinos closed. The roulette wheels in the Kurhaus Baden-Baden didn’t spin for more than six decades. The casino reopened in 1933, only to shut down again in ’44 during the final months of World War II.
The Baden-Baden Casino resumed operation in 1950 as a limited company. Gambling begins at 2 p.m. daily with roulette. Other games such as baccarat and poker start later.
Compare the great German casino’s long history to the most famous gambling city in the United States: Las Vegas. Gambling wasn’t legalized in Nevada until 1931 when Mayme V. Stocker and J. H. Morgan were issued Clark County Gaming License No. 1 on March 20 for the Northern Club near Hotel Nevada.
The Northern Club later became the Exchange Club, then the Boulder Club, then the Rainbow Club. Wilbur Clark of Desert Inn fame leased the property ’54, renaming it the Monte Carlo Club. In ’66, the club was demolished after being deemed unsafe.
In ’31, construction of Hoover Dam brought an influx of construction workers that started a population boom. Liberalization of divorce laws also attracted many people because the residency requirement was only six weeks.
Short-term residents stayed at dude ranches, forerunners of hotels on the sprawling Las Vegas Strip. The first, El Rancho, a resort with 63 rooms and a casino, opened eight months before Pearl Harbor was bombed.
New rivals on the Strip in the ’50s contributed to El Rancho’s decline and it was destroyed by fire in ’60. Today, the property is a vacant lot.
One of the favorite forms of gambling is betting on horses. Racing in England is recorded at York as far back as 1530. Ten years later, Chester had its first racecourse. Two-horse match races for a private wager became popular among the nobility. That’s why today horse racing is still known as the Sport of Kings.
It began to evolve into a professional sport during Queen Anne’s reign (1702-14) when match races gave way to competition between several horses on which spectators bet. Tracks sprang up throughout England and purses were boosted to attract the best thoroughbreds. In turn, purses made breeding and owning race horses profitable.
In 1750, racing elite met at Newmarket to form the Jockey Club, which still exercises complete control over the sport in England.
A century earlier, British settlers brought horse racing to the New World. The first American track was laid out in 1665 at Long Island.
For the next two centuries, tracks popped up and disappeared around the New York area. The tracks were operated by the rich and famous to showcase their horses.
It wasn’t until the Civil War that entrepreneurs began treating the sport as a business – organizing and promoting betting by the general public. John Hunter, William R. Travers and former American heavyweight champion John Morrissey had a track built at the popular summer health resort in Saratoga Springs.
The inaugural meeting was conducted in 1864 and America’s oldest stakes race was staged – the Travers, named for the first president of Saratoga.
Ironically, it was won by a horse named Kentucky, named for the state that’s considered the cradle of horse racing in the United States.