I’m a big fan of casinos. I’m not sure if it started when I was watching James Bond films or perhaps more modern films like Casino and Ocean’s Eleven, but I just like the thrill of the tables and the glamour that is often associated with the casino environment. We’ve got a few casinos in the town that I live in and often, if we want to keep partying late into the night (happening less and less these days), we end up going to the casino as it has a late licence. I’ve also been to Vegas three times and have always left a winner. I’m not even a big gambler. I just like a little flutter every now and again. The first time in Vegas, I’ll be honest, I was only $5 up when I left but I was so determined to leave as a winner that I just stopped gambling and hung on to that $5 chip which I still have. But my most recent trip was when we drove Route 66 on our honeymoon 6 years ago and I somehow made over $500 in one sitting. I left Vegas a winner that day but, being the true gentleman and newlywed that I was, I spent it all on my wife the next day in L.A. The things you do for love, eh?
Casinos are everywhere and gambling is something that has permeated many different media. I’d like to take a quick look at how casino games infiltrated the video game market. Video game developers were not slow to bring casino games to the market. Today, casino is one of the more forward-thinking and complex industries out there. For example, a brand like 888casino has pushed for innovation in live casino, a type of experience that provides extra opportunities for social interaction, while also taking slot machines, blackjack and roulette to mobile platforms. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, however, it was a much simpler affair.
In 1977, when Blackjack became one of nine launch titles for the Atari 2600, along with Video Olympics, Air-Sea Battle, and the obvious smash hit Basic Math, casino games were valued for their simplicity; they were both easy for developers to program and provided a familiar point of entry to fans new to video gaming.
Bob Whitehead’s Casino in 1978 set the bar for early blackjack games on the Atari, to the extent that it has been re-released multiple times since the seventies, including on the Xbox 360. Whitehead, who also programmed Blackjack, is notable for founding modern goliath, Activision, alongside David Crane and Larry Kaplan.
There’s also a slot machine game on the Atari 2600 but, with the limitations of the console in mind, it’s about as far from the Vegas reality as it is possible to get. Coded by Crane, and featuring peach coloured rectangles, and just the occasional car, as reel decals, Slot Machine wasn’t the most exciting way to spend an evening, even back in 1979.
The ZX Spectrum, which launched in 1982, initiated a plethora of games to be written for it, from a variety of genres. Casino Royal was first one of the first to come along, in 1984. Monte Carlo Casino and Las Vegas Casino (both 1989) were two of the most popular casino games released for the platform, especially given that the former was backed by up-and-coming publisher Codemasters, who also released the popular Dizzy series on the Speccy.
Monte Carlo Casino featured five different casino games, including roulette, blackjack, and possibly the first, full-colour slot machine. The overall gameplay wasn’t very deep – there wasn’t much to do other than win more money – and it didn’t offer baccarat, one of the games on Las Vegas Casino, but it was a polished experience with a pleasant, if sparse, soundtrack.
While casino does still pop up on modern consoles from time to time, blackjack and roulette are primarily the domain of online brands like 888casino in the modern era, which, as previously mentioned, tend to favour portable, mobile experiences. Still, even the most sophisticated video slot owes a debt to one retro console or another. Will we see casino games continuing to thrive into the future? I’d put money on it.