What Was the First Casino in the World? Meet the Ridotto, Venice, Which Opened in 1638

Antique Playing CardsGambling has a long history and the origins of it aren’t that well documented. The reason behind this is that there’s some confusion about when it first started.

You see, there has been evidence to show that the Chinese were gambling in 2300 BC after tiles were found with people gambling between each other. There was further evidence dating back to 1500 BC when Egyptian dice had been found, which again, would lead you to think that they were playing games for some sort of prize, loosely relating to gambling.

Worlds First Casino: Ridotto, Venice

Venice Carnival Masks

It’s widely believed that the first casino that was ever made was that of the Ridotto, which is located in Venice Italy. History would suggest that gambling here dated back to 1638 and was originally set up (by accident) by the Great Council of Venice.

The reason that it was by accident is that initially it was designed as a place where they could keep gambling away from the carnivals and festivals that used to take place every year in the city. By setting up the Ridotto, which is loosely translated as “the private room”, it meant people could gamble in peace away from the hustle and bustle of the carnival.

The need for the ‘casino’ was recognised by the government who had noticed that gambling had quickly sprung up on the streets and they wanted to keep it away from the masses. They also realised that they were able to make money from these games, which is one of the reasons why they were keen to get involved and in essence, open up what is now widely believed to be the first casino in the world.

At the time the Ridotto was not known as a casino as such. In fact, it was known as simply a gambling house or at least the Italian translation for that.

The Ridotto drew a huge buzz in the city and whilst it was open to the public, the fact that it required a lot of money just to gain admission and then also to gamble, meant that it was pretty much an exclusive place for those of high society. A quirky rule that was in place there was that gamblers had to wear three-cornered hats and masques before they were able to place a bet. It’s not sure why but given that gambling was still a little underground at the time, it’s thought that this was to protect people’s identity as to how much they had won or lost.

Early Games

Gold Coins on Wooden Table

The casino ran two games at the start of their tenure; birbi and basetta. Birbi was a lottery game where the player would need to choose numbers from 1 to 70 and if that number was drawn then they would win. The cost of the game was that they only won 64 times their wage, meaning that the house took around 10% of the profit for each game that was played.

Basetta proved to be the most popular game at the casino though and this was a bit of hybrid between blackjack, poker and gin rummy. The game offered players a 60x return on their money, with the house taking around 10% for each game in terms of the vigorish.

What’s interesting is that the games that they played nearly 400 years now are still run today, albeit in a slightly different format. The house still takes an edge from the games and they still make lots of money. But, even back then, the possibility of winning big in the casino was the main lure and the Ridotto was able to put these types of games on the map.

The Ridotto Closes it’s Doors in 1774

Old Key in Lock

The fun for the Ridotto (casino) ended in 1774 when the city had decided that they needed to clean up the city and remove pastimes such as gambling. The Venetian government voted overwhelmingly in favour of the decision and the casino closed later that year.

What’s interesting to see is the similarities between the first-ever casino and the ones that run today. They are seen as ways that people can make money quickly and don’t sit too well with large parts of society. The fact that companies and even the government can make so much money from them undoubtedly keeps them open and whilst Ridotto’s doors eventually closed, it was more for relocation purposes, rather than a closure for the industry overall.