The South of England with its picturesque coastline has a long maritime history and has for years been one of Britain’s most important boat-related locations. It’s seen the departure of many great ships such as the RMS Titanic, as well as being visited by some of the largest cruise ships in the world.

What is perhaps lesser-known, is that such vessels offered a myriad of opportunities when it came to onboard entertainment; ranging from theatre shows and dinner cruises to floating casinos. Vessels also acting as entertainment venues isn’t something that’s as common as it once was, so we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the little-known pairing of maritime history and gambling. We’ll take you through time, past the modern era, to Britain’s first casinos, and even learn a little about pirate code.

First, contemporary casinos. In the modern age, the way gambling is conducted naturally differs greatly from how it was enjoyed centuries ago. Today’s world, with the advent of the internet, has led to the emergence of online casinos, which have brought with them the diversification of classic table games. Such sites have introduced digitalised versions of games such as roulette with a live dealer, making for an interactive experience. It’s still, of course, also possible to play with a roulette wheel online in various guises, thanks to the availability of both traditional and modernised titles.

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In the wider context of gambling, the Isle of Wight actually contains no land-based casinos – the closest ones are in the neighbouring town of Portsmouth just across the Solent. Rumours have persisted over the emergence of a land-based option for decades. Considering the fact that the Isle Of Wight is home to 140,000 people and features a booming tourist industry, it seems surprising one has never been built.

However, several centuries ago, the principle of boats and gambling was yet to be intertwined. The art of betting or partaking in such activities was prohibited by pirate code and merely took place on land in some of the bigger port cities. For instance, 20% of the buildings in Port Royal in Jamaica were anything from pubs to places to gamble. Closer to home, however, the first casino in Britain wasn’t actually opened till hundreds of years later, in a port city, namely Port Talbot in Wales, back in 1961. It promised a Monaco-like experience; a haven for “gambling, cabaret, dance, and fine dining”. A year later saw another open in Brighton, also a seaside town, and from there, their popularity grew and soon they were all over the country.

There are some interesting tales to be told of both gambling at sea and also the history of gambling in Britain. It’s certainly one of the more varied stories in recent history, especially thanks to the sudden springing up of casinos just as the Swinging Sixties were coming into view. Moreover, with the rise of the Internet and new forms of technology, it’s given way to new ways of gambling and also raised questions about the how’s and why’s of casino placement. Who knows? Maybe the Isle of Wight will get a casino in the future.

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