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People Throughout History Who Have Shaped the Gambling WorldBy Shane Addinall Jul 22, 2022Who had the guts and power to help shape gambling into a global multi-billion-dollar industry? Let's meet the people who shaped the industry into what it is today.
For gamblers in the twenty-first century, it is extremely easy to enjoy a quick flutter, whether it is at an online operator or their nearest land-based casino. The layered tale of how this all came into being covers centuries of yo-yo regulations, complete with visionary entrepreneurs that shaped gambling as we know it.
Take a trip down memory lane with us as we explore details about the individuals that contributed to the success of gambling leading up to the present. Some had the power to change laws, while others had the money to establish casinos.
Let's take a historical and biographical spin around the globe!
A Brief History of Legal Gambling
Games of chance and man's love for it date back to prehistoric times. Unsurprisingly, gambling's legal state varied greatly over the centuries, and its prohibition reigned for long periods at a time.
Legal gambling is, in fact, very new compared to how long we've used games of chance as entertainment. Except for certain regions in Europe, most gambling only enjoyed legal status at the beginning of the 20th century. Although there were short periods before this where countries allowed citizens to enjoy making wagers, the most solid legislation came into the equation around the 1930s in America and 1960 for Britain.
Decades later, the internet and innovative gambling tycoons led to the remote gambling industry that today allows millions of players worldwide to enjoy wagering wherever they find themselves.
People Who Paved the Way
Changes in the industry came about gradually as more regions from various continents legalised casinos, and the individuals that propelled these changes included congress members, wealthy dreamers, and talented software developers.
Here are brief biographies of the individuals that shaped the gambling world.
✓ Il Ridotto and the Great Council of Venice
The first known permitted casino dates back to 1638, when the Great Council of Venice opened a temporary private room during that year's carnival. They named the public casino il Ridotto and planned to close it once the carnival packed up. Although the Roman Catholic Church objected to the practice of gambling, it was public demand and full government coffers that kept the gambling house flourishing.
Thanks to the people of the Great Council, this gambling house inspired others in surrounding regions like Paris and Monaco, which essentially kick-started the global casino industry. Unfortunately, the Ridotto didn't survive reformist Giorgi Pisani's motion to close it and its doors shut forever in 1774.
✓ Cardinal Jean-Theodore, Bavaria
Through the approval of a decree, Cardinal Jean Theodore of Bavaria allowed for the opening of the second oldest casino in the world, Redoute casino. The facility opened in 1762 and trades to this day, although its name changed to Casino Spa. A few years later, another casino opened as part of a bathhouse in the German region, Baden Baden. At the time, it was the casino for royalty, but Baden Baden Casino exists to this day, with its elaborately luxurious interiors, and is open to all gamblers.
✓ Prince Florestan I and Francois Blanc, Monaco
Gambling and European Aristocracy have strong ties that date back centuries. In 1856, Monaco's Prince Florestan, the first, passed a concession for the opening of the region's first bathing house and casino. Monaco only experienced genuine success in its gambling industry two years later, after Hamburg's Francois Blanc entered the country and built a casino. Le Grand Casino de Monte Carlo came into being in 1858.
Like all other parts of the globe, North America has a complicated history with gambling. It wasn't until the 20th century that casinos were legally allowed in some states.
✓ Governor Fred Balzar Opens Reno
Following over two decades of prohibition and countless illegal operations, Nevada State Assemblyman Phil Tobin introduced Bill 98, which allowed for wide-open gambling in the state. Governor Fred Balzar understood the financial implications and signed the bill into law on 19 March 1931.
From there, small gambling venues traded for a decade in Reno before the first Las Vegas licences appeared.
✓ Thomas Hull and El Rancho
Armed with his Las Vegas licence, entrepreneur Tommy Hull built the first hotel-casino in Sin City. Rumour has it that the land owner offered it to Hull for free, but he insisted on paying $1,000 per acre and took 57 acres from her. Hull's casino celebrated outstanding success, and its surrounding area later became known as the Vegas Strip.
We all know how the rest of this story goes. Today, Las Vegas is the gambling hub of the West and the Strip houses 31 stupendous casinos and resorts.
✓ Enoch L. "Nucky" Johnson and Atlantic City
New Jersey is yet another gambling jurisdiction with a long history of gambling, starting before the prohibition era. Locals tell the tales of how it was a well-known attraction to find all prohibited goods and services in this state. During his time as the leader of the Atlantic County and Atlantic City governments, Enoch L. "Nucky" Johnson publicly admitted to the lawlessness of his state.
For a good reason, he had the reputation of a powerful city boss. Although his methods were crooked, Johnson paved the way for Atlantic City's casino industry's success. Federal Authorities eventually grew tired of Johnson's criminal approach and arrested him. The first legal casino opened in the 70s after countless landmark hotels were closed and demolished.
The first legal casino in the UK opened its doors in 1961, following the government's release of the Betting and Gambling Act that year.
✓ The Casino Club and George Alfred James
Some refer to him as 'The Father of British Casinos' and The Casino Club Port Talbot was George Alfred James' brainchild that launched his UK casino empire. Located in Wales, the spectacular facility included a fine dining restaurant for 400 people, illuminated floors, and cabaret performances for the wealthy aristocrats of the area. Frequent guests comprised celebrities and other rich and famous Brits.
One year after this, James expanded his casino business and opened the doors of the Prince of Wales club in Cardiff, The Golden Horseshoe in London, and The Kingsway Casino in SouthPort. The latter became a flagship in James' empire with events like celebrity appearances and top musical performances, merging casinos and entertainment in the UK for the unforeseeable future.
Like most regions, Macau's gambling history includes power struggles and regulatory challenges. Nonetheless, Macau became the world's leading gambling hub in a short 4 decades.
✓ Stanley Ho
He may not have been the most popular guy in the room or world, but Macau's journey to the gambling capital of the world started with Stanley Ho's monopoly casino empire. He secured a gambling monopoly licence for Macau in the 60s and worked his magic. Under the syndicate, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) Ho started with the New Garden Casino and a year later opened the casino hotel, Estoril.
Nearly a decade later, after establishing smaller gambling venues across the city, STDM presented its flagship casino, the Lisboa Hotel, where patrons enjoyed traditional Chinese games and Baccarat, blackjack, and slot machines.
The Lisboa had the first VIP rooms, leading to Macau's flourishing junket operator's industry. Ho's reign and his monopoly ended in 2002 when the Chinese government freed up the gaming industry.
In 1994, the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda established the Free Trade and Processing Act, which allowed licences for online gambling companies. Regarding whom the first official online casino provider was, it remains arguable, but the following had a tremendous impact on the igaming world.
✓ Roger Raatgever and Martin Moshal
South African-born business graduate Roger Raatgever was Martin Moshal's investment and loan banker when Moshal faced a declined loan application to start a software company.
Raatgever believed the online gambling company had potential and offered Moshal loan security for a 50% share in what would become Microgaming. Their company officially launched in 1994, and Raatgever was the CEO.
Microgaming launched its first online slot, Cash Splash, in 1998 with the first progressive jackpot. In collaboration with other industry leaders, Raatgever worked to break down industry stigmas, and they created the Interactive Gaming Council, which became a pioneering regulatory body in iGaming.
✓ Denise Coates and Bet365
The cutthroat gambling industry does not have many female faces in executive positions, but UK-born Denise Coates is not just any lady. In 1995, her father offered her the chance to manage their family business, a betting shop chain. Driven by the absolute conviction that online sports betting is the way to go, Coates persuaded her lawyer brother to join forces with her and with his support, she launched Bet365.
Bet365 is one of the world's most reputable online betting platforms. Two decades of hard work allowed Denise to help shape the sports betting global market.
Online gambling in all its forms was well established by the time that Nic Robinson founded his software company named Big Time Gaming. Since his company's launch in 2011, it has contributed to unforgettable changes in the iGaming industry. Most notably, Robinson's business invented the crazy mechanics that power Megaways, and since then, slots were never the same.
BTG became part of the innovative live casino company, Evolution in 2021, and the partnership continues to shake things up in igaming.
A Golden Future
It may have taken a century to shape the gambling industry into what it is today, but the speed of change and innovation change gears constantly with the rapid growth of late.
These figures made invaluable changes for gambling and casinos, and many more will follow as we move into the era of virtual reality and the metaverse. One thing remains clear, the future of gambling is as exciting as the colourful tales in its history.
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