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The History of Betting in Venice

Published on: 28/10/2013

Venice has always been seen as a city of high culture. From the great illustrious figures as Monteverdi, who created such beautiful music, and Titian, the wonderful renaissance painter, the city has always been an artistic hub of Europe. All this high art has not meant that gambling was anathema to its inhabitants however! For centuries Venice has had a thriving gambling industry. From as early as the middle of the 17th century it has housed legal casinos. There are many historians who actually claim that Europe’s first casino was built in Venice.

It was during the late Renaissance that there was a great flourishing in the spread of organized gaming houses. Venice led the way, and was always the first to have such popular games as Basset, Faro and Biribisso. These early games were hugely popular, and contributed heavily to the modern games of Lotto, Keno and Roulette. The Rilato District of Venice was the commercial district of the city – a huge bustling area, full of activity. Even before the casinos had been built in the city, this area displayed the people’s passion for any kind of gambling.

The shopkeepers and merchants constructed their own kind of “mercantile gambling.” This involved raffling certain goods, which were contained in sacks and suspended from their doorknobs with a band of silk. This soon developed into a charitable fund raising activity, where everything from property, jobs and goods were raffled. This benevolent practice was actually the beginning of gambling in Venice, as the regulations it brought with it eventually came under Government control, and led into the regulations that allowed gambling to be leglislated.

The legalisation of gambling inevitably led to the outlawing of certain forms of unsanctioned gaming practices. Many halls and back rooms of shops were closed down. Of course even when gambling is completely illegal it cannot be stopped, and those wishing to continue playing their games at their convenience found ways to do so. Small private chambers were set up, called “Ridotto.” There were extremely popular amongst the lower classes.

Most people however were satisfied with the licensed venues, and spent considerable amounts of their leisure time in them, not to mention a large portion of their income! In 1638 The Great Council of Venice restructured a large portion of the San Moise Palace specifically for gaming. The timing was judicious, as it was completed for the city’s flamboyant spring carnival. After much debate it was decided that the prestigious venue be called “The Ridotto,” and so was born the world’s very first government sanctioned Casino.

The Ridotto was an imposing structure: standing four storeys tall, it dwarfed the surrounding buildings. No expense was spared in its decoration, and gamers would tread marble floors, while standing beneath massive candlelit chandeliers. There was food, refreshment, anything a player could wish for, to sustain them during their long and arduous bouts of gaming. Admission was free, provided you purchased gaming chips. Non players were allowed to enter, but had to pay for the privilege of watching the gamers in action. Some records suggest that the casino was only planned as a temporary venue, to coincide with the spring carnival. Such were the huge profits it generated however, that it was decided the casino should be a permanent part of the city. It would have been foolish to cut off such a valuable source of revenue. The people loved it, and it kept them off the streets and out of mischief. Incredibly the Ridotto remained open for more than a century, remaining fully operational until 1774, when gambling was once again made illegal.

This law had the predictable effect, that of driving gambling back underground. Such was the people’s love for gaming that it couldn’t simply be switched off with the passing of a law. They were more than willing to take risks to continue their favourite pastime. Indeed, that risk itself was a kind of gamble! Tables were set up in “Casa,” that is small clubs that were merely the back rooms of cottages. It is this term Casa that provides the link to the modern word casino. The etymology of our term has its roots back in the eighteenth century Venice, when people’s love of gambling could not be checked by it being outlawed.

Published on: 28/10/2013 © Bet Bind
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