A day watching the floor at a big casino will probably provide you with as much drama as a day at the theatre. Of course, there are the huge emotional moments when big bets pay off and fortunes are made as well as when they don’t and everything comes crashing down.
There are smaller moments too that play out every day as well. The stag and hen parties or happy newlyweds celebrating, the gaggles of old men on their weekly poker outings, and all the little daily dramas between staff and patrons are all part of the mix.
Casinos are perfect examples of the kinds of buildings that make you wonder what stories they could tell if those walls could talk.
For the oldest casinos, that’s centuries of history. Even some of the early Las Vegas casinos, which were only built in the 1950s, have many decades under their belt now.
Here are four of the most famous historic casinos…
The Deadwood Casinos, South Dakota
Brought back into the public eye by the successful television series of the same name, Deadwood is a time capsule of a town. Deadwood, South Dakota was one of the biggest gold rush towns at its peak. Like any Wild West frontier town, it had its share of excitement and features streets lined with casinos, bars and brothels. Today, it is one of the best-preserved frontier towns and the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Deadwood hasn’t totally shaken its past, however. It has become a gambling hot spot for those who want to play a few hands like a cowboy out of their favourite Western (no spurs required). If you sit down to play the slots in the lobby of the Bullock Hotel or the Silverado Franklin Hotel, there’s a chance you’ll be sitting in the same spot as Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok or Calamity Jane.
Casino de Monte-Carlo, Monaco
The principality of Monaco is largely defined by its capital city’s casino. Opened in 1865, its background sounds like something out of a fairy tale — a princess trying to save her kingdom came up with the idea of opening a casino as a way to restore her family’s fortune. Ever since then, the Casino de Monte-Carlo has been an icon of glamour and luxury.
If a luxury getaway to Monaco isn’t on the cards at the moment, consider playing at an online casino. It might not be quite as glamorous, but playing the online pokies can be just as much fun – and you don’t even have to wear a bowtie (unless you really want to).
Casino di Venezia, Venice
If you love castles (and honestly who doesn’t?) then you’ll probably love the Casino di Venezia. The oldest casino in Europe and the oldest active casino in the world, it hasn’t just been a casino. It opened as a theatre with a casino in 1638, before becoming a palace for Italian royalty. In the 19th century, it was a favourite holiday destination of composer Richard Wagner. Since 1959, it has been reborn as a modern casino.
Much of the casino still looks like a Renaissance palace. The most recent redesign left most of the original features in place, so it feels like you’ve stepped back in time as you make your way to the slot machines and table games. There are ultramodern touches, including one of the bars and a glass-walled room for table games.
The Golden Nugget, Las Vegas
It wouldn’t be a list of famous casinos without including one of Las Vegas’ oldest and most storied casinos. Now a part of the Landry family of casinos, the Golden Nugget hasn’t always been so corporate. The original owner of the Golden Nugget was Guy McAfee, a former police officer from Los Angeles who became a powerful member of the criminal underworld.
Besides its shady origins, it was also one of the first casinos to offer an artist residency — and they began with none other than Frank Sinatra. Sinatra had such close ties to both the casino industry and organised crime that the character of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972) was modelled after him.
Today, the Golden Nugget is no longer the largest casino on the Strip and it can no longer boast of having the brightest neon sign either. However, it does hold on to its original charm and decades of history within its walls.