Gambling has a long and rich history. Games of chance appear in just about every culture in the world and betting has been in existence almost as long as civilization itself. If you are talking about the history of European gaming, then the Ridotto should hold a point of significance in the conversation. Widely considered to be the first casino on the continent of Europe, its importance to the history of gambling cannot be overstated.
The Ridotto was essentially the first legal casino on the European continent. Previous to the Ridotto, there were various illegal gambling houses, but the games were not set up by the house as they would be in the modern casino. For the most part, these were locations that turned a profit on other services and the games would be held amongst friends and associates.
The Ridotto was a government-run casino that was held in a wing of the San Moisè Palace in Venice. In spite of laws that were against gambling, illegal gambling houses were still in operation and very popular. To address this situation and to provide a safe and legal option, the Great Council of Venice decided to open the Ridotto during the Carnival season.
Though it was chartered as an establishment that was open to the public as a whole, the rules of the club and the high-stakes nature of the gaming ensured that it was accessible to only the wealthiest members of society.
Unlike modern casinos that offer a vast array of different gaming opportunities, the Ridotto only offered two games to its patrons. The first was a lottery style game that was known as biribi, and the second and more popular option was a card game called basetta.
Opening in 1638, the Ridotto was the first legal gambling house in Europe. The casino would not be open year round, but instead it only offered gaming during the Carnival season, which began in October and ended on Ash Wednesday.
The Ridotto pioneered many of the style ideas and techniques that are used in casinos today. The luxurious design ideas that you find in modern casinos, can be traced back to the Ridotto. Additionally, ideas like the house-banked game, and the built-in house advantage, were all first employed at this early casino.
Offering seasonal gambling for more than a century, the Ridotto finally closed its doors in 1774. Reformers, led by a nobleman named Giorgio Pisani, pushed for the closing of the Ridotto with the stated aim of helping society to maintain better discipline and behavior that is more moderate and moral.
The Ridotto was well known across the continent. The wealthy and famous from all over Europe would go to Venice to take advantage of the gaming. This includes notables such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and opera librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.
As mentioned above, some of the rules at the Ridotto essentially worked to exclude the common people from attending. These rules included a dress code that required a three-cornered hat, a cape and a mask.
In the modern day, there are legal casinos all over the world and they all owe a small debt to the Ridotto. The establishment of the Ridotto showed that with the right business model, mercantile gambling could be a viable business option. Its popularity helped to demonstrate that legal gambling was a profitable attraction that could boost the income of the local government.