Betting in Venice

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Published: 02/04/2013

The role of Venice in the history of gambling is unmistakable. In the mid-17th century, this Italian city is where the first legal casino was established. It was from here during the Renaissance that gambling spread throughout Europe, spearheaded by games like Faro, Basset and Biribisso, which would contribute to the development of such modern games as Keno, Lotto and Roulette.

Even before casino gaming caught on, the Rialto District in Venice was mad for “mercantile gambling,” whereby shopkeepers would hold raffles for goods from door knobs to bolts of silk. The town fathers saw that the craze could be a fund-raising opportunity. They started holding their own “charitable” drawings, raffling everything from municipal real estate to official jobs and commissions. Then they began setting rules for what others could offer, gradually bringing all lotteries under government control and making Venice the original home of gaming regulation as well.

When unsanctioned gambling activities were banned, residents took to private chambers called “ridotto,” which flourished among both common folk and the local aristocracy. In response, the Great Council of Venice converted part of the San Moisé Palace for legal gaming, just in time for the city’s annual Spring Carnival in 1638. Of course, they named it “The Ridotto”—the world’s first state-sanctioned “casino.”

The Ridotto stood four storeys tall, filled with parlours and huge candlelit chandeliers. Other than nobility, all players had to wear Carnival masks. Refreshments were sold for a profit, and non-players were charged admission to watch the games. Money poured into the city coffers, causing the casino to remain open long after the Carnival ended. In fact, The Ridotto operated for more than a century, not closing its doors until 1774, when gambling was eventually outlawed.

Again, illicit gambling went underground, this time to closed clubs in the back rooms of humble dwellings or cottages called “casa” in Latin, which in turn gave rise to the word “casino.” Although strictly illegal, casinos proliferated in Venice and throughout Italy for centuries. Today, Italian Criminal law states that gambling is still illegal, whether organized in a public place, an open-to-public place or a private club. The exception is casinos operated under a state-licensed monopoly, and of those there are currently three open for business in Venice.

One of them, the Lido de Venezia, features only gaming machines—24 units in total. It supplements the electronics with live gaming tournaments held between May and September for International Bridge, Backgammon and Gin Rummy. Players must be at least 18 years of age and men are required to wear a jacket and tie. There is an entrance fee of 15,000 lira, and a valid ID or passport must be shown upon entry. Two restaurants can be found on the premises, located inside the Venice Hotel Excelsior.

The other two casinos are much larger and have a greater array of gaming options. They share the name “Casino di Venezia” and are operated under a single licensee. The property identified as Ca’ Noghera first opened in 1999 near Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. Its 59,200-square-foot gaming space features 600 gaming machines and eleven familiar table games, from Blackjack and French Roulette to Texas Hold’em. Open from 11am daily till 3am on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30am on Sunday through Thursday, the property also has a late-night club called the Theatre Arena, which hosts concerts, shows and catwalks.

The other Casino di Venezia is the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, located right on the Grand Canal. With 500 gaming machines and seven table games, it offers a full-service casino experience with options like Chemin de Fer, French Roulette, Fair Roulette, Blackjack, Midi Trente et Quarante, Caribbean Poker and Punto Banco. Opening hours are from 3pm daily until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30am on Sunday through Thursday.

One other gambling venue based in Venice is, quite appropriately, a floating casino. It is aboard the Costa Cruises - Costa Fascinosa, a cruise ship with 1.508 cabins, five restaurants, 13 bars, four swimming pools, a disco and a theatre on three levels.

Published on: 02/04/2013

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