If you think that Las Vegas is the birthplace of grandiose casinos, it’s time to go back to the history books. In fact, the oldest casino in the world is the Casino di Venezia and it dates back to 1638! What’s even more intriguing is that the casino is still in operation today and is a popular tourist destination in the heart of Venice’s Grand Canal.
From Palace to Theatre to Casino
If the name Mauro Codussi rings a bell, it’s because he singlehandedly designed some of the most beautiful churches in Venice, such as San Zaccaria and San Giovanni Crisostomo. Codussi was the first to bring the early Renaissance classical style to the city the 15th century.
It was at the height of his career that Codussi was commissioned by Andrea Loredan to build a magnificent palace on the Grand Canal in the Cannaregio sestiere. It took 28 years to complete the three-story building, which has direct access onto the Grand Canal, and some of the most magnificent architectural features of the time. Paintings, sculptures and columns adorn the palace, thanks to Loredan’s passion for art. Today, it’s still possible to gaze up at the frescoes and wall-paintings by masters such as Palma il Giovane, Gian Battista Crosato and Mattia Bortoloni. It’s also easy to understand why the Italian poet and journalist, Gabriele D’Annunzio, immortalized the casino in his words: “A sculpted cloud resting on water.”
The mansion passed through the hands of different owners until it was opened as the Theatre Saint Moses in 1638. In an innovative move, the theatre operators thought it would be a good idea to offer their patrons the opportunity to gamble on popular games of the time during intermission. The idea was such a good one, that it was adopted by multiple cultural establishments around the city. Less than a century later, there were more than 120 casinos across Venice! It was around this time, that the building was called Ca’Vendramin Calergi, although today it is known as Casino Venezia, one of the most popular luxury casino resorts in the world.
Popular Spot for Richard Wagner
In 1739, the palace was inherited by the powerful Vendramin family who owned it until 1844. It was then purchased by the Duchess of Berry, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile.
Between 1858 and 1883, the German composer, Richard Wagner stayed at the palace multiple times, using it as a getaway after long tours. At the age of 69, he died of a heart attack while staying at the palace with his family. A memorial plaque adjacent to the building pays tribute to the man.
In 1995, the Wagner Museum was opened at the palace, and houses rare documents, musical scores and family heirlooms. It can be visited by appointment only on Saturday mornings.
Today, besides the museum, the building features a restaurant called The Wagner and has a private garden.
But Back to the Casino!
In 1946, the city of Venice bought the building and decided to renovate it to house an official casino, as a nod to its roots. The Casino di Venezia opened its doors to the public in 1959 and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. While there is a small fee to enter the casino, tourists are able to enter for free with their public boat tickets. There are also free shuttles from around the city to the front door of the casino.
Visitors get to enjoy a wide range of classical casino games such as blackjack, roulette and poker in an opulent, ornate and charming building with many original features. To keep with the classic theme, even the dealers are dressed in tuxedos and there is a strict dress code for visitors. But there’s still a taste of Vegas at this casino, with around 600 slot machines at varying betting levels. Many of the slot games are linked to a jackpot network and at any given time there are millions of Euros in prize money waiting to be won.
The casino hosts segments of global poker tournaments such as the annual World Poker Tour. The Italian Chemin de Der Championship is held at the casino every year, while baccarat and blackjack tournaments are also popular events.