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Where was the World's First Ever Casino

Published on January 15, 2020, 7:27 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

It is nearly 400 years since the first casino opened its doors in Europe. The concept of the casino remained relatively unchanged throughout that period until very recently when technology brought online casino games into our homes. But where did it all begin? And what games were the first casino visitors playing?

Italian heritage

The word ‘casino’ is of Italian origin coming from the root word ‘casa’ meaning house. The word may have been originally used to describe a country villa or social club and was later used to describe dedicated entertainment venues. Therefore, it is no surprise to discover that the first casino was opened on the Italian peninsula.

The very first casino to open its doors was originally known as the Ca' Vendramin Calergi and was located on the Grand Canal in Venice. It was established in 1638 and soon became a hotspot for international gaming. The building was originally linked to the Teatro Saint Moses and featured a room (known as Il Ridotto) where theatregoers could gamble during intermissions. The original "Il Ridotto" gambling room was depicted in paintings by Francesco Guardi and Pietro Longhi. Such was the popularity that a permanent casino was established. Within a century, there were well over 100 gambling sites in the city of Venice alone.

Il Ridotto (by Francesco Guardi)
By Francesco Guardi, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The original casino was closed in 1774 but later reopened under a different name, Casino di Venezia, and remains active today. It is now hosted in a renaissance-style building designed by Italian architect Mauro Codussi that is one of the most impressive on the Grand Canal. At one point it was once the residence of composer Richard Wagner. Many of the original frescoes and artwork painted by the likes of Mattia Bortoloni, Palma il Giovane and Gian Battista Crosato are still on display today.

What games were played?

Those familiar with roulette games online will be surprised to hear that this casino classic was not featured in the first casino and did not appear until nearly a century later. In fact, the first games played at the casino were Biribi and Basetta.

Biribi was a lottery-style game in which players bet on 70 different outcomes which were drawn from a bag by a dealer. The winner was paid out at a price of 64/1 giving the house a substantial edge. Basetta was a card game with similarities to blackjack, poker, and gin rummy. Winning players were awarded 60 times their stake. The game was later replaced by faro which was successfully exported to the USA. Baccarat and bingo games were also played in Italy as early as the 15th and 16th centuries and may have also been played at the casino.

Who played there?

Il Ridotto was open to the public, but high stakes and a strict dress code meant only noble people were able to enjoy its services. Men who played there were required to wear three-cornered hats and head coverings that only revealed a part of their face, while women in attendance wore masks. In its later years, the establishment became a regular haunt of Italian adventurer, Giacomo Casanova.

The journey from the first casino to the online casinos of today has been a long one which has spanned nearly four centuries and witnessed many changes, both in the type of player and the games that were played.


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