The world’s first recorded casino, the Casino di Venezia was founded in 1638, during The Renaissance. Though the present building in which it resides was not where it was always located – the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi – was built as a palatial home by the Doge for one the city state’s rich residents (it relocated here in the 1950s), it is also the place where the composer Richard Wagner died. Consequently, the same building is also now home to Venice’s Wagner museum.
The First Venice Casino
As mentioned above, Venice Casino was not always inside the palatial Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. It began life as a four-storey wing of the San Moisè Palace, the palace of the Doge, from its original foundation in 1638. This is where the modern casino proudly claims it roots, even though it is not in the same building. Today, the San Moisè Palace is a luxury hotel in the centre of the city.
Though the Il Ridotto casino was open to every Venetian citizen, the rules on dress code and the minimum stake value meant that all but the richest of Venetian society were priced out of playing the games. Gambling was illegal until this point, but card and dice games were so prevalent that the authorities could do little to stop it. As with other controversial industries throughout history, authorities chose to legalise, regulate and (most importantly) tax it rather than continue an unenforceable crackdown.
It is known to have had games today that aren’t quite so common in the casinos of Europe, North American and China today such as Biribi and Basetta. Both games were banned or frowned upon in some countries during the 19th century; with deregulation later in the 19th century and into the 20th century, they failed to become popular again in the face of competition from other games. The casino would. However, later be one of the first casinos to offer the popular card game Faro.
The original Venice Casino closed in 1774 when the reformer Doge Giorgio Pisani stated that it was a morally dubious practice for the city. He wished to preserve the piety and decency of Venice. The city authorities agreed and it closed before the end of the year.
The Casino di Venezia Today
Despite claims of being the oldest casino in the world, it is important to remember that between 1774 and 1959, Venice had no casino. The city authorities bought the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in 1946 and the new casino was established 13 years later.
As mentioned above, the beautiful palace is now home to the casino as well as the Wagner Museum. It is accessible directly from the canal and its grand entrance by boat is as attractive as it is romantic. There is also a main street entrance, but if only for showmanship, people can arrive by gondola into the building.
It may not have the grandness of Las Vegas or the European chic of the facilities of Monte Carlo, but it is inside a beautiful historic building – the exterior and the interior – that puts many of its younger and larger counterparts to shame and the setting of Venice is second to none. Venice may not be the first destination one thinks of when planning a visit to a casino, but as the centre of art and architecture, this beautiful canalled city is home to the oldest casino in the world.