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Casino di Venezia: The World’s Oldest Casino

Casino di Venezia at night
Casino di Venezia at night
Author: Dennis Jarvis

People have gamed and gambled for thousands of years wherever they gathered, informally and formally. Ancient China had gambling houses in 200 BC, if not before, but the first true casino in history was “Il Ridotto” in Venice. Although it was closed down in the 18th century, another Venetian casino took its place as the go-to location for the Venetian’s gaming fun and still exists today. It boasts traditional gaming tables, hundreds of slot machines, and even a separate poker tournament room for events such as the World Poker Tour. Come explore the Casino di Venezia with us!

The History of This Gorgeous Casino

The Casino di Venezia located today on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, is nearly 400 years old. The casino opened its doors to the public in 1638 in the Theatre Saint Moses. The theatre offered gambling in a dedicated wing during intermissions. People were so excited about these brief gaming moments that soon dedicated casinos began popping up in the city. The Casino di Venezia only moved into its current location in 1959.

The current building was built in the 15th century and its official name is the Ca’Vendramin Calergi. A Renaissance palace and former home to the Doge of Venice Leonardo Loredan, it was designed by Mauro Codussi. Codussi was one of the first architects to switch from the Gothic style to the classical style that came to characterize the early Renaissance in Italy. He also designed San Zaccaria, San Giovanni Crisostomo, and Santa Maria Formosa churches in Venice. The infamous Torre dell’Orologio (Saint Mark’s Clocktower) on the Piazza San Marco is also said to have been designed by Codussi.

The Ca’Vendramin Calergi began as the home for the Loredan family and continued as a private home until 1937. At this point it became the Center for Electromagnetic and Electrical Phenomena until its purchase by the Venice City Council in 1946.

The Casino’s Particularities

Being located in a Venetian palace means the casino offers players a true luxury experience. From the moment players step off their (free) gondola and walk through the tall French doors of the building, they are immersed in Italian design. Crystal chandeliers, Murano glass mirrors, and ceilings decorated by the Baroque master Mattia Bortoloni act as a reminder of the past, while modern décor and lighting keep it from feeling like playing in a museum.

The casino’s architecture has attracted film companies as it has been used in many Hollywood movie sets and highly influenced the James Bond film Casino Royale. It hosts events during Venice’s annual film festival as well as a variety of others throughout the year. These include galas, ballet performances, and concerts. This year the Salone delle Feste of the Casino di Venezia is hosting Tentazioni, a Nu’Art show which combines art, food, and music in one extraordinary sensory experience. For €150 guests over 18 enjoy an aperitif, a dinner show, and a DJ set to finish out the evening.

A Musical Connection

The famous 19th century German composer Richard Wagner lived in the Ca’Vendramin Calergi for almost five months in 1882 to 1883. He rented the mezzanine level from Count de’ Bardi, the owner at the time, to live in with his family. Wagner died of a heart attack at the palace in the afternoon of February 13, 1883. His remains travelled over the Grand Canal by gondola before being returned to Germany for burial. The mezzanine floor of the palace was given to the Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia in 1995 on the 112th anniversary of the composer’s death. It then became the Wagner Museum and can be visited by appointment on certain days.

The casino’s restaurant also serves as an homage to the composer. The Wagner Restaurant open nightly offers 150 players a true Italian cultural experience in three great halls on the first floor. After a few hands of blackjack and before some spins of a roulette wheel, diners can feast on Venetian fish specialty dishes and other traditional fare while surrounded by paintings and frescoes by Gian Battista Crosato and Palma il Giovane and a soundtrack of Wagner’s compositions.

Other Historic Land-based Casinos

While Italy’s Casino di Venezia is the oldest casino, there are three others from the 18th and 19th centuries well worth a visit as well. First, the Casino de Spa in Belgium which dates from 1763 and rebuilt in 1918 after a fire. Germany’s Kurhaus Casino of Baden-Baden opened in the 1820s and became extremely popular in the mid-1830s after France banned gambling. Less than 63 kilometres from Strasburg, the casino was ideally located for French gamers wishing to continue their fun. And finally, the Casino de Monte Carlo, opened in 1856, and still attracting high rollers and celebrities today.

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