The Casino di Venezia: A Look at the World’s First-Ever Casino

Today, casinos are a staple of modern life. Most major cities have several, and we’re forever seeing ads for them flash up while we browse the web. Many of us have played at them too, either online or during an evening out.

But have you ever wondered where they started? Unsurprisingly, casinos haven’t existed since the dawn of time, but their origins are nonetheless ancient. In this article, we look at the world’s first-ever casino – the Casino de Venezia – and explore how it all began.   

The first of its kind

Casinos began with a unique business proposition in the 1600s. While gambling had been popular for millennia, the first place to call itself a casino was the Casino di Venezia, and every casino since has followed in its footsteps.

Opened in Italy in 1638, the Casino di Venezia was situated in the wing of a much-larger building known as the Palazzo Dandolo. It was founded at the behest of Venice’s city leaders, who wanted a gambling house owned by the government that would bring money directly into their coffers.     

It’s this fact that set it apart from earlier gambling locations. While it was common to wager in the 1600s, this typically took place in private rooms, and there was no regulation of the activity. This much-more public setting was not only approved by the government but fully legal and publicly managed.   

Its opening was a direct response to private gambling activity, with several clubs having opened in Venice around this time for the purpose of bringing players together. The government had first tried to outlaw these games of chance and the places they were played, before deciding the better approach would be to seize a piece of the action – and the profits – for themselves.  

An exclusive setting

So, what did this gambling mecca look like? While it was officially for the enjoyment of everyone in the city, the reality was that the Casino di Venezia welcomed only its most wealthy denizens. It was an exclusive venue with an exclusive clientele, and its lavish appearance reflected this.  

Despite being housed in a single wing within a larger building, the casino stood an incredible four storeys tall and boasted a leviathan entrance hall and dining room. Decorated by the finest artists the city had to offer, it was stylish, decadent, and the pinnacle of 16th-century Venetian fashion. Its casino gaming tables were located on its top floor and spanned the length of the wing.

The dress code was as exclusive as one might expect and was designed to keep all but the wealthiest out. As well as needing to don a three-cornered hat to be admitted, masks were deemed a necessity, and the formal attire required was something only the most expensive wardrobe could stretch to.

Unlike modern casinos, the high stakes were also chosen to keep the majority of people from participating.

Limited games

If you were to visit a casino today, you’d find an extensive array of games on offer. For example, this 777 casino review explicitly mentions the multitude of titles available, among them over 200 slots from providers including NetEnt, Blueprint, IGT, and Playtech. Modern players specifically seek out this variety – and contemporary casinos do their best to meet this expectation.  

If you’d played at the Casino di Venezia, however, you’d find your options far more limited. There simply wasn’t the same range of games available, so it was mainly a case of choosing between three: Biribi, Bassetta, and Cavagnole. The latter was probably closest in style to modern-day roulette.

A short-lived venture

While a business remaining open for more than 100 years may seem like a success story, it’s a surprisingly short tenure for one that inspired all modern-day casinos. However, less than a century and a half after opening its doors, the Casino di Venezia closed them again.

By 1774, the mood in Venice had changed dramatically, with calls for reform throughout the republic. Seen as detrimental to the “piety, sound discipline, and modest behaviour” of citizens, the casino was forced to shut permanently.

Its legacy, though, endures in 2022 in every casino and every country. As popular online as they are off, these gambling meccas remain one of the most enduringly popular forms of entertainment – as they have across the intervening four centuries.