The Legendary History Of “The Numbers Game” In Harlem

March 23, 2021

Harlem is famous throughout the world as one of the centers of nightlife and excitement in New York. That makes it no surprise that the area has a storied history when it comes to casinos and gaming or as they used to call it “the numbers game.”

It has long been home to some remarkable and thrilling casinos and remains so to this day. Harlem is an area that has been associated with both glamour and grit over the years. As casino gaming is an experience that combines both of those qualities, the two could be said to be perfectly suited to one another.

In this article, we will take a look at the history of casinos in Harlem. We will also explore some of the casinos that can currently be found there and how they match up to online ones.

The History of Casino in Harlem

When anyone is telling the story of casino gaming in Harlem one name stands out: the Renaissance Casino. This legendary gaming establishment was built all the way back in the early 1920s.

It officially opened its doors to the people of Harlem in 1923, right at the height of the Roaring ‘20s. The giant complex was located on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 138th Street.

Given the size of the building, it is no surprise that a casino was just one of the things it housed. It also had a basketball arena, six big shopping stores, a ballroom, and a theatre with seating for 900 people.

Known to the residents of the area as the ‘Rennie’, it was constructed by the Sarco Realty Company. This was a business owned by African Americans and they also made up the majority of those who went to game and dance there.

The Renaissance Casino complex was important to the history of Harlem and the US. It was the only truly luxurious entertainment venue for African Americans back in the 1920s.

That made it popular as a place to play casino, in addition to moving to Jazz Age dances like the Black Bottom and Charleston. The Renaissance also hosted stylish social events and political meetings.

It was a genuine hub for the community of Harlem, as well as one of the top casinos in the country. Through its staging of stars like Count Basie and Louis Armstrong, it also pioneered the idea of casino combined with music shows, well before Las Vegas.

The ‘Rennie’ closed its doors in 1979 and was knocked down six years ago. However, it put casinos on the map in the district during its long history.

The Harlem Casinos of Today

There is nothing quite as spectacular as the Renaissance Casino in the Harlem of today. The area is still home to several popular casinos though.

Easily the stand out among them is the Empire City Casino. This offers a strong selection of games, ranging from table games like blackjack and roulette to slot machines.

It also permits anyone aged over 18 to play on its slots. The youngest you can be to play at other Harlem casinos is 21.

The Empire City Casino has additional key features that set it apart from others in the Harlem area. Among them is the presence of video slots and electronic table games, which enable it to compete with online casinos.

This has earned it a reputation as one of the top New York casinos, not just the best in Harlem.

Other casinos that the district boasts include the Big Deal Casino and the Resorts World Casino. However, many in Harlem now play casino online, so how do its land-based ones match up to this?

Online or Land-Based Casino in Harlem

The online world has a multitude of casinos that people in Harlem can visit, without leaving their homes. That convenience is something that the area’s land-based venues struggle to compete with.

There is no doubt that the Empire City Casino is the one best-placed to challenge its online rivals. Making its many slots games available to 18-year-olds is one way it has been able to gain an edge.

Another is by installing several cutting-edge electronic slots and table games. The online casino has ensured that people want modern games now and Empire City is competing in that area.

The Harlem land-based casinos also offer people the chance of a night out. None of them are true entertainment centers the way the Renaissance was, but they still let people dress up and hit the town.

That is an important selling point, at a time when Virgin Games and other online sites are offering unrivaled game variety, comfort, and convenience.

The fact that Harlem is still able to support several land-based casinos shows that many enjoy both that and online gaming. This seems likely to remain the case for some years to come yet, with the latter gradually taking over.


There is a long history of casino gaming in Harlem, which started with the launch of the Renaissance Casino. That was the beating entertainment heart of Harlem for decades.

None of the casinos that have sprung up to replace it in the years since match its scope. However, the way people consume entertainment and socialize has also changed.

Venues like the Empire City Casino are holding their own against an online casino, with both being popular in Harlem. Thus, the story of casinos there is far from over.

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