Casinos and Ridotti

Casinos and Ridotti, were private places where select company used to meet, talk, gamble and enjoy themselves; especially at night.

The origins of “casinos” and “ridotti” in Venice, go back to the 13th century; possibly as a response to the popularity of street “games of chance” and betting.

These establishments, were predominantly attended by the privileged classes; that allowed another venue for socialising, along with their homes and theatres.

Venetians had a great passion for gambling, so for the upper classes, security and anonymity was important; especially those involved in romantic assignations and “pleasures of the flesh”. Such establishments remained more exclusive, by the level of décor and furnishings, enforcement of a dress code at the gaming tables and security. However, such places became available for working people, that tended to be located in more peripheral parts of Venice with open and greener spaces for sporting activities.

Regulated and banned, yet they still kept growing in number, until 1638 when these gambling establishments were licenced. Onc such establishment was simply called “Il Ridotto” and was Europe’s first state owned gambling establishment; becoming internationally famous.

Casanova praised the beautiful women, playwright Goldoni found willing listeners to his fantastic stories. The painters Longhi, Guardi, and Tiepolo all found inspiration in these darkly-lit establishments.

Today, in Venice only one establishment remains for gambling: Ca’ Vendramin Calergi – “Casino di Venezia” 

  • Introduction
  • Regulations, bans and State Control
  • Popular Games
  • Evidence of Old Casini
  • Ca’ Vendramin Calergi – Today’s casino di Venezia



 Il Ridotto di palazzo Dandolo a San Moise - Francesco Guardi

Il Ridotto di palazzo Dandolo a San Moise” by Francesco Guardi


Casinos and Ridotti – Introduction

A “casino” (pl: casini), literally means “little house” in Italian. However, it has come to mean, “a place for playing”.

The term “ridotto” (plural: “ridotti”) comes from the Italian word “ridurre“, meaning to “close off” or “make private“.

The use of both terms in the literature, is rather confusing and basically should be regarded as interchangeable, for describing such establishments.

The origins of “casinos” and “ridotti” in Venice, go back to the 13th century; possibly as a response to the popularity of street “games of chance” and betting.

In the city of Venice, the privileged class socialised not only in their homes; but in theatres and these casino-ridotti.

These establishments, could range from an interior part of a palazzo; a smaller building in its grounds; associated with a theatre, such as a foyer; or private apartments.

Many were located in San Marco district, in and around St Mark’s Square and extending to the Rialto.

They were kept more exclusive, by the level of décor and furnishings, a dress code at the gaming tables, higher stakes and security. During the 18th century, a great passion for chinoiserie and a strong flavour of the exotic; characterised the décor and furnishings.

Others were used only by the working class and situated in the peripheral areas of the city; where it was possible to play ball games in open and grassy spaces. Apparently, it has been reported that there were even ridotti; to cater for secretaries, artisans, cooks and waiters.


Casinos and Ridotti – Regulations, bans and State Control

Indulgence in betting, became so widespread a passion, that the Venetian authorities were obliged to introduce legal restrictions.

Violent fights and abuses were not that uncommon, so that the governing bodies of the Republic of Venice, felt bound to impose legal restrictions; to keep order in these establishments.

In 1506, cards and dice games were banned, but was widely disregarded; even when the penalties were severe. For instance, a nobleman caught gambling in a casino, risked a fine of 300 ducats and exclusion from public office for ten years. A lower-class member, could be banished from Venice for up to ten years.

In 1609, the laws were extended to include anyone working in a casino; risked up to 6 years imprisonment, after their nose and ears were cut off! Second term offenders risked a double prison term.

Remarkably, Venetians continued to gamble at some of the more attractive and secure casinos. Guests arriving at the entrance could sometimes be secretly spied upon from above, through viewing devices. Once inside, if necessary, a rapid exit could be made through secret doors (of a cupboard for instance) and out through the back entrance!

In 1638, the authorities gave in, by requiring licensing of gambling houses; to exercise control over them.

Pietro Longhi - Il Ridotto

Above: Pietro Longhi – Il Ridotto. Note the black or white baute masks and the tricorn hats.

One of the most famous casinos was simply known as “Il Ridotto” at Palazzo Dandolo, near San Moise church and just to the west of St. Mark’s Square. The Palazzo originally belonged to the Dandolo family and then, in the year 1638, it rented a four-story wing to the State, which converted it into a public gaming-house. As the first state-run gambling house, its fame became widespread throughout Europe.

According to the casino’s original charter, access to Il Ridotto was open to the public. However, everyone at the tables, had to wear the typically Venetian mask, called a bauta and men also wore the typical tricorn hat.

However, due to the high stakes and dress code, less affluent Venetians; were thereby prohibited from making wagers at the casino’s tables.

Since most visitors wore masks at the ridotto, it became the obvious location for conspiratorial plots and illicit amorous encounters, thus fuelling the imagination of artists in 18th-century Venice: Longhi, Guardi and Tiepolo all painted numerous scenes of the ridotti.  Casanova and Goldoni’s writings were both appreciated and inspired by these surroundings.

Many wealthy and famous characters were regular clients; such as Frederick IV of Denmark and Guiseppe Verdi celebrated the success of his opera “Rigoletto”, in 1851 in the Ridotto San Moise.

Some punters lost their entire fortune in a single night. In 1774, frivolous and extreme habits, led Venetian reformer Giorgio Pisani proposed the city close the Ridotto “to preserve the piety, sound discipline and moderate behaviour“. Pisani’s motion passed by an overwhelming majority and the casino closed its doors the same year.

In the Dorsoduro district, close to Campo San Barnaba; you can still find the “sotoportego del casin dei nobili”. It was named after a place of relaxation and refuge for ruined nobles, who were given free lodgings in San Barnaba parish church and were called “barnabotti”.

At that time there were 118 casinos. However, by the fall of the Republic; the number had risen to 136! Eventually under Napoleon’s rule; most of the furniture and artworks were removed and the premises closed down.


Casinos and Ridotti – Popular Games

Above: Alessandro Piazza (active 1665–1727). Casino in the Ridotto Wing of the Dandolo Palace, Venice

Il Ridotto is known to have offered “biribi” and “basetta”.

Biribi was a lottery-like game, in which players placed bets on one of 70 possible outcomes. The “banker”, would then draw a number from a bag and anyone who had bet on that number, would win the game’s pot. The game featured a built-in advantage to the house, whereby a winning player only collected 64 times his original bet.

The most popular game at Il Ridotto, however, was the card game basetta. This game was a cross between blackjack, poker, and gin rummy and offered winning players 60 times their wagers in the pay-out. In later years, it was replaced by card game “faro”; which would gain even greater popularity in the USA.


Casinos and Ridotti – Evidence of Old Casini

Many of these premises were destroyed and today, only about a dozen of these former premises; can be seen by the public (open or by request); to reimagine the ambience of these places and their architecture and decoration.

During the 18th century, the interiors were very elegant: a great passion for chinoiserie and a strong flavour of the exotic characterised décor and furnishings of these establishments.

Casino Vernier.

  • Since 1987, it is the Venice office of the Alliance Francaise – San Marco 4939
  • Opening times: Mon – Fri: 9am to 1pm and 3pm- 6pm or with prior group reservations.

A charming example, it is situated at the heart of the “Mercerie” shopping street, running between St. Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge. It is a  a small apartment, whose interior decoration is still intact, with floors of cemented marble, noteworthy stuccowork and even frescoes and mirrors.

It belonged to Federico Venier, Procurator of St. Mark’s, but was primarily associated with his wife, Elena Priuli. Since 1987, it has been the seat of the Venetian premises of the Alliance Française.

Casino Segrado

  • Hotel Ca’Segrado – Campo Santa Sofia 4198
  • Close to Ca D’Oro waterbus stop and opposite the Rialto market.

Casino Zane, near to the Frari.

  • Now within the Centre di Musique Romantique
  • (Foundation Bru Zane, established 2008)

Can be seen on regular concert performances held here.

Casino Contarini dal Zaffo (formally Casino degli Spiriti)

  • Piccolo Casa della Providenza Cottolengo – Fondamenta Contarini – 3539
  • Ring at the Porters Lodge, to ask the nuns, if you can visit the wonderful Renaissance gardens; that contains the “Casino degli Spiriti” (Summerhouse of the Spirits)
  • Alternatively, contact the Wigwam Club Giardini Storici, on T: 041610791
  • –  or  –

In Cannaregio, the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, is a patrician mansion dating from the late 16th century; with a large garden facing the northern lagoon of Venice. It is a solitary, enchanting place, especially because of a small building known as the “Casino degli spiriti”, situated inside the garden of the Palazzo itself. This Casino was above all a meeting place for the “leading spirits” of the Cinquecento in Venice: a meeting place for important figures of Venetian art and culture, men-of-letters, scholars and artists such as Titian, Sansovino and Aretino; who took part in intellectual rendezvous. The sound of the wind and echoes from the lagoon caused gloomy legends to spread.

Casino dei Comercio – Piazza San Marco

  • Found above the Café Laverna, entered from behind the café. The space can be rented for events and two rooms overlook the Piazza.

Casino Dandolo

The wing of the San Moisè Palace, in which the Ridotto originally operated; was four stories tall and featured a long entrance hall, dining rooms and other fineries, including work from artist Gerolamo Colonna. Its gaming tables, meanwhile, were primarily situated in its upper floors.

 Casino Contarini

  • Palazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli – San Marco 3780

The palazzo today, contains the Offices of the Public Administration and still houses the remains of the old casino. It might be possible to gain access to these spaces, by request.

The rooms are covered in Dutch tiles, depicting animals, houses and windmills, in a pure Dutch style.



  • The palace was commissioned in the late 15th century, by the Loredan family to the famous architect Mauro Codussi. The building was his last work, completed in 1509; five years after his death.
  • Established in 1638, the “Casino di Venezia” moved here in the 1950’s and since 1995; also became home to the Wagner Museum.
  • The closest vaporetto station is “San Marcuola”, located about 100 meters from the casino; that can be reached using Lines 1 and 2 ACTV.

A perfect and exclusive spot where to spend a thrilling night in Venice; whether to gamble, or just to dine.

Italian gourmet delicatessen and fish specialties are a must in Ca’ Vendramin’s restaurant; dedicated to the great composer that used to live here, until his death. The “Wagner Restaurant” offers refined dining with 150 places in rooms, splendidly decorated by Palma il Giovane and Gian Battista Crosato frescoes. A new “Grill Bar”, has opened in the Lounge Bar area on the second floor.

Games available are: French Roulette, Fair Roulette, Chemin de Fer, Black Jack, Caribbean Poker, Punto Banco, Slot Machines.

You can read all about Wagner’s association with Ca’ Vendramin, in my post “Wagner in Venice”; in the links area below.



Links (internalexternal)

Please see my other related posts in the category of: History and Architecture

You may also like to read my posts by clicking the link on:  “Prostitutes and Courtesans of Venice”      and    Wagner in Venice

For a history of gambling which goes back several millenia, try this: The History of Gambling – Complete Gambling History Timeline


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