By Steve Beauregard
The sweet CA-CHING sound of a winning slot machine, the “Cocktails?” solicitation by scantily-clad cocktail waitresses, shouts of joy at a roulette wheel. The pumped in oxygen, flashing lights, and high-fives with strangers at a blackjack table – there’s nothing like the sights and sounds and pulse-pounding excitement you feel with those first few steps walking into a casino.
My name is Steve Beauregard and I put this site together because other than the occasional losing streak and undercooked steak, I love everything about traveling to casinos.
I’m neither a travel writer, nor a casino expert, but rather, just an ordinary tourist who caught the gambling bug early.
Ever since I was a kid in the 70’s, when my parents scurried us quickly past the smoke-filled aisles of slots to our hotel room at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, I’ve been mesmerized by casinos.
After all, they represent a whole other world – one full of magic – and a visually and emotionally stunning escape where financial gain is possible, and a good time is probable. A place where I’m called sir, and given complimentary meals, where my heart can soar with a dealer’s bust card, or drop in disgust after a supposedly fast horse trots slower than my lawnmower. It’s a mystical land where fortunes can be made, and mortgage payments lost, where not only can you eat to excess, you’re encouraged to do so, and where beautiful women who would otherwise never give me the time of day approach me, asking if they can bring me free alcohol.
From Los Angeles to Las Vegas, to Louisiana and Connecticut, and all points in-between, Americans are flocking to casinos in record numbers. According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), approximately 25% of us in the United States visited a casino at least once last year. (That’s roughly 75 million people). To take care of those millions, casinos employ over 350,000 people.
Between regular commercial casinos, and Indian casinos, the United States has over $68 billion in annual gaming revenues, according to the most recent figures from the AGA.
(RELATED: Las Vegas New Year’s Eve Fireworks schedule)
After a brief respite from the recession, the casino building boom continues. While Las Vegas casino construction may have ground to a halt, (other than some very expensive remodels), gambling dens are popping up all over the fruited plains. And even in the recession-weary Las Vegas market, Caesars Entertainment opened the $550 million dollar Linq project within the past few years, while more recently, MGM Resorts opened the 14,000 seat T-Mobile Arena.
Other future projects include new planned resorts on the Strip called “Resorts World” (south of Circus Circus), and a $1.5 billion dollar expansion of the Wynn that includes a new 1,000 room hotel and recreational lake.
Recently, new casino/hotels have opened in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, Biloxi, Mississippi, Maryland, Michigan, San Jose, California, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Recently we have also seen the grand opening of casinos in New York, Washington state, Florida and Santa Rosa, California, as Native American tribes try to cash in on the boom, and state and local municipalities look for a way to boost their economy and increase tax revenues into government coffers.
Las Vegas, of course, is the runaway leader of casino gambling in the United States with approximately major 90 casinos in the metropolitan area. The “Strip” itself is home to 41 casinos.
The top casino destinations in the United States by revenue are as follows:
1) Las Vegas (and Nevada in general)
2) Pennsylvania (Includes both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia)
4) Atlantic City
8) New York (state)
(These are state-licensed commercial casinos and therefore these figures do not include Indian casinos, otherwise states like Connecticut, with Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and Oklahoma, home to the WinStar – the largest casino in the United States – would figure to be on this list).
Today’s multi-billion dollar casino industry is a far cry from casino’s humble roots. Although gambling and games of chance have been around forever, (“I’ll lay you 2-1 that Eve eats that apple.”), the first documented casino was called the Ridotto. A wing of a palace in Venice, Italy, it was owned and operated by the local government and mostly catered to the area’s wealthy citizens. Sort of like a modern day Wynn. The Ridotto opened up 1638, with an opening night celebration that included a performance by Tony Bennett (rim shot).
(Related: Reno, NV New Year’s Eve Fireworks)
The Ridotto was extremely popular, despite only having two games: a card game and a bingo type of game. The Wheel of Fortune slot machines would come much later.
What constitutes as the very first casino in the United States is not exactly certain. After staying at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, I would have thought it was the oldest casino, based on the carpeting in our room.
Because poker type games were popular on the riverboats of the Mississippi, the USA’s first casino likely could have been a dusty, dirty little card room on the banks of the lower Mississippi River in the early 1800’s. However many have speculated that the USA’s first casino was part of the first known saloon in the United States – an old West joint near the Utah/Colorado border called “Brown’s Saloon.”
Published reports put Brown’s Saloon as being established near the Colorado/Utah/Wyoming border in 1822 in a fur-trapping camp called Brown’s Hole. This was a then-busy area of commerce that saw its share of famous old West outlaws, like Butch Cassidy. It’d be ironic if Utah was the actual home to the country’s first casino, considering the Beehive State is one of only two states to not have a casino, (Hawaii is the other). Brown’s Saloon likely featured only one game: Faro, which is a card came somewhat similar to poker.
Unlike gritty old Brown’s Saloon, today’s casino is a pleasure-filled, technologically advanced, visually-pleasing marvel, complete with award-winning restaurants, hip clubs, luxurious spas, entertaining shows, world-class shopping and everything else you could ever need (and a lot of things you don’t). There’s also some gambling I hear. And unlike some of the dark, smoky, cluttered, and soulless casino floors of the past, today’s modern casinos are bright, open, comfortable, and most importantly, fun!
Here at Gamboool.com, you’ll find information, photos and helpful tidbits about the various casinos spread out over the country, with my occasional smart-aleck opinion thrown in for good measure. We’ll cover everything from the Fountains of Bellagio show times to buffet prices. We’ll also cover poker players, general Las Vegas tips, other gambling towns, and other gambling-related topics.
Your feedback, questions, and/or personal observations in visiting these casinos or on the other topics is welcome. Thank you for reading!
(Photo courtesy of Glen Scarborough via Flickr).