The game of chance seems to be as old as mankind itself. Winning or losing is decided – depending on the interpretation – by the gods or by chance. Even in Greek mythology, Hercules played dice with a temple guard for a seductive woman. The history of casinos, on the other hand, is still quite young.
It goes back only a few hundred years. But they have it in them. The fascination of casinos, where social life is combined with the search for personal success, radiates unabated. It is worth taking a closer look at some of the most spectacular gaming palaces of the present day. And to tell how it all began. 1638 – the first public casino in Europe, the “Ridotto”, opened.
WHEN IT ALL STARTED
So let’s turn back time and land in Venice almost 400 years ago. In this mysterious city with its branching canals and debauched carnival, noble gentlemen were looking for a more refined form of pleasure. Already in the Middle Ages, gambling had been celebrated in the open air with official blessing.
But the leading circles were looking for something more exclusive. In 1638, they opened the first public casino in Europe, the “Ridotto”. It was established in a wing of the venerable Palazzo Dandolo directly on the lagoon – once the seat of a powerful doge family.
The desire for enjoyment of life and an oasis where even a small fortune can be risked away from the business world were the inspiration behind the founding of the casino. The idea quickly became a huge success, even if not everywhere was as posh as the state-run “Ridotto”. Soon there were more than 100 gambling houses in Venice. The authorities had their say and issued the licenses. A lot of money circulated behind the walls.
Strict dress codes applied in the “Ridotto”. Only people of rank frequented the place. The card game “Basetta”, a mixture of Black Jack, Poker and Gin Rummy, was particularly popular. When strict moral guardians in the Signoria enforced the closure of Venice’s noblest casino in 1774, tourism – already an important source of income at the time – suffered severe losses.
The blow to gambling brought declines in sales to the textile industry, gondoliers and innkeepers. Even sales of carnival masks plummeted. Instead, new illegal gambling houses sprang up in cafes and dives.
HIGH ROLLER DOSTOYEVSKY
With the revolution of 1789 in France, the casinos that had sprung up there were also closed. King Louis Philippe decreed the final end in 1837. Now gamblers from all over the world made a pilgrimage to Germany. The great era of casinos began in Baden-Baden, Bad Homburg and Wiesbaden, in Bad Ems, Bad Nauheim and Bad Pyrmont.
The famous Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky wrote about his German casino experiences in the novel “The Gambler”. The puritanical Prussians were not comfortable with the “Belle Epoque” of gambling. After the founding of the German Empire in 1872, all German casinos were forced to close. Francois Blanc, who had led the casino in Bad Homburg to international importance, then brought the casino in Monte Carlo to flourish.