Casino is of Italian origin; the root casa (house) originally meant a small country villa, summerhouse, or social club. During the 19th century, the term casino came to include other public buildings where pleasurable activities took place; such edifices were usually built on the grounds of a larger Italian villa or palazzo, and were used to host civic town functions, including dancing, gambling, music listening, and sports; examples in Italy include Villa Farnese and Villa Giulia, and in the US the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. In modern-day Italian, the term casino designates a bordello (also called casa chiusa, literally “closed house”), while the gambling house is spelled casinò with an accent.
Casino, Theatre, Banquet Hall or Officers’ Mess?
Not all casinos were used for gaming. The Catalina Casino, a famous landmark overlooking Avalon Harbor on Santa Catalina Island, California, has never been used for traditional games of chance, which were already outlawed in California by the time it was built. The Copenhagen Casino was a theatre, known for the mass public meetings often held in its hall during the 1848 Revolution, which made Denmark a constitutional monarchy. Until 1937, it was a well-known Danish theatre. The Hanko Casino in Hanko, Finland—one of that town’s most conspicuous landmarks—was never used for gambling. Rather, it was a banquet hall for the Russian nobility which frequented this spa resort in the late 19th century and is now used as a restaurant. In military and non-military usage in German and Spanish, a casino or kasino is an officers’ mess. In Italian—the source-language of the word—a casino is either a brothel, a mess, or a noisy environment, while a gaming house is called a casinò.