The first Western casinos – hidden spaces in theaters (Ridotti)

Ridotto-gaming-salon-1755 --- Francesco-GuardiThe concerts and theater performances in Venice in the 17th century are famous and notorious. Everyone likes to be seen on the often beautiful occasions. But there are enough reasons for others to complain about it. The performances often end in decadent parties. The pope speaks of morality going bankrupt. Later Carlo Goldini expresses and depicts in his plays.

Gamble

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There are many illegal gambling sites at that time. Incidentally, there are also in the Netherlands and other countries in Europe. In the Netherlands people play cards in hostels. In Venice it happens in many places, including in the side halls of theaters.

Such a side room is called a ridotto. It is a front room or what we now call a foyer. There is gambling, drinking, partying and forcing. The Venetians love the concerts and theater performances. But the entertainment in the ridotti (plural of ridotto) and other gambling venues are favorite.

Prohibition

The government is against gambling and abuses. It has in vain issued an official ban against the houses where brothels, shops and other things are housed, for example in a decree of 29 Dec. 1628.

The decree also prohibits gambling on streets, squares and other public places. Houses in which ridotti accessible to third parties are organized must close within 15 days. Employees will be severely punished. A ridotto is then synonymous with a hidden room.

Ridotto

Ten years later, the prohibitions and convictions against gambling prove in vain. In an attempt to regulate gambling, the Venetian republic of Marco Dandolo, a member of an influential Italian family, gives permission to open an official playhouse in his palace in San Moisè. It is called the Ridotto and it is the first Western casino that was started with the permission of the government.

The government gives permission because it thinks it can exercise some control. But mainly to profit from the profit. The Public Ridotto, as the government calls it, is close to San Marco square. Many know where to find the gambling opportunity, especially in the Carnival season. Not just Venetians. There are gamblers from all over Europe.

Francesco Guardi and renovation

Little is known about the starting period. Thanks to the Venetian painter Francesco Guardi, we get an impression more than a hundred years after the opening. Between 1755 and 1765 he painted several paintings on the Ridotto theme. It is short for a rigorous renovation in 1768. The building is being renovated and expanded to include designs by the renovation architect Bernardino Maccarucci.

In the texts from that time it is not entirely clear whether the description below refers to the Ridotto from before or after the renovation. Looking at the paintings of Guardi you would think it is for the renovation. But there are historians who post it after 1768.

Before or after the renovation

The Ridotto has a large room, also known as the entrance hall, whose walls are hung with leather and where the light comes from large chandeliers. There are dozens of spaces around this room to play. And there are two smaller halls, the so-called dining rooms. In one the players drink tea and coffee and eat chocolate, in the other they can get wine with cookies, sausages and fruit.

There is a nobleman in every game room with stacks of gold coins (sequins) and ducats in front of him. He plays the bank for everyone, if well-to-do citizen and masked. Women and children are admitted. If they belong to the well-to-do middle class, they may be unmasked.

Carlo Goldoni

The Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni writes extensively about the Ridotto in his memoirs. He disapproves of what's going on inside. In 1750 he expresses his disapproval in the play Il Giuocatore (old play for the player).

His drama story is about an unfair player, gambling addiction, the disappointment about loss and the hope of winning, and the fear of the next turn, which must surely yield the desired fortune.

Pietro Chiari

Shortly after Goldini's play, the novel "Le memorie di madama Tolot ovvero la giocatrice di lotto" (the memoirs of Mrs. Tolot or the lotto player) appears in Venice. Pietro Chiari's book is extremely successful, also outside of Venice. It deals with the lottery, a game that, after years of tolerance and acceptance in 1734, gains a permanent place in Italian society.

It appears that the most dangerous gambling games have already been banned from the Ridotto. Despite the ban, there have always been illegal gaming halls. But…

Closure

Venice-around-1720-Giovanni-Canaletto

San Marco square in Venice, 1720

No sound can be heard in the Ridotto's gambling rooms. The game is played in absolute silence, while in cool blood capitals change ownership. Family well-to-do after family is ruining itself.

The government feels compelled to take radical measures. On November 27, 1774, the Council of Ministers decided to close the Ridotto. Shortly thereafter, many Venetians stroll around San Marco square, one writer notes, and he continues:

Melancholy is growing among the entire population. The Jews turn yellow like pumpkins, the traders do not trade, the mask makers die of hunger and the hands of certain gentlemen, accustomed to shaking the cards ten hours a day, are now shriveled and shrunk. The reality is that vices are absolutely necessary for the power of a state …

Sources:

  • Book: Memoirs Goldoni – translator John Black
  • Book: Venice – Decadence Volume 3 Vol 1 – Pompeo Molmenti
  • Book: Salve Venetia, gleaning from history Vol 2 – Francis Crawford

More history articles

We post new articles every week, so keep an eye on our blog page. Read among other things about the successful casino of Francois Blanc, or discover why a murder was committed in London in the 19th century because of a gambling debt … you can probably guess how things ended with the perpetrator.

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