Well before Las Vegas became a thing, the small European principality of Monaco was the gambling capital of the world, and the name “Monte Carlo” was synonymous with gambling.
Since opening in 1863, the Monte Carlo Casino has remained one of the the finest European casinos to this day: a gambling icon on a mountain top overlooking Monaco, attracting tourists and gamblers from all over the world.
There’s no doubt that the Monte Carlo is one of the oldest such places in the world, and one of the most beautiful … but are there others that exceed its gleam and history?
There are at least two!
Casino Tourism: The Oldest And Most Beautiful Gambling Destinations in Europe
The Oldest: The Venice Casino
Casinò di Venezia, founded in 1638, is recognized as the oldest gambling establishment in the world – it was originally a theatre called the Theatre Saint Moses, which had a wing for gambling during the intermissions of plays.
Known as the Ridotto (Italian for ‘private room’), it was set up to control gambling during the Venice carnival season, but by 1770 it was closed down, leaving Venice without a legal gambling house until 1930 (the city felt gambling was impoverishing the local nobles).
Back then, if you weren’t a patron of the theater, it was prohibited to gamble in an organized setting, but by 1744, Venice was well and truly experiencing a casino craze; the city had more than 120 different (illegal) gambling houses.
After being brought back into commission in the 1930’s, Casinò di Venezia today sits in the Ca ‘Vendramin Calergi – a centuries-old palazzo in the city’s historic center. Completed in 1509, this is the oldest building home to a casino today.
Over the centuries, the Ca ‘Vendramin Calergi changed hand several times and was home to crowned heads and famous faces ranging from Duke Eric II of Brunswick-Calenberg to German composer Richard Wagner who lived his last two years among its walls.
The Venice Casino Today
Today, the Venice Casino actually sites in two locations, but it’s signature venue is the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal. The other venue is Ca’ Noghera, near the Marco Polo airport.
There are hundreds of ways to gamble here, from blackjack to roulette and poker, all hosted by dealers in tuxedos, alongside 600 slot machines and ongoing tournaments for pros, like the World Poker Tour.
Though even if you’re not interested in gambling, you can dine at the renowned Wagner Restaurant, or simply visit the sophisticated building for the glamour; a perfect example of a renaissance style stately home.
The Ca’ Vendramin Calergi has been used for many Hollywood sets, and is often home to Venice Film Festival events. So many people head here for celebrity spotting. It was also the main inspiration for the Bond film Casino Royale.
The dress code is smart casual; you can dress in casual clothes, but must dress respectfully. Beachwear is not allowed in the summer, and you should not wear short trousers, tank tops, sandals, flip-flops, slippers and / or tracksuits.
The Most Beautiful: The Wiesbaden Casino
Image: Martin Kraft (photo.martinkraft.com) / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Wiesbaden (Germany) has a long history as a spa town – the curative properties of its thermal springs were known to the Romans conquering the area, and at one time, Wiesbaden boasted 26 hot springs.
Gambling followed bathing in the 19th century, and in the 1800’s Wiesbaden quickly became famous for both. Its casino (Spielbank) was known to rival Bad Homburg, Baden-Baden, and even Monaco, set up in the city’s main Kurhaus (spa house).
The casino closed down in 1872, when the government closed down all German gambling houses. When it reopened in 1949 the Kurhaus building was beautiful, but relatively small, and couldn’t accommodate the influx of tourists during the coming century.
A new building was commissioned between 1903 and 1905, and the old spa house was demolished to make way for the new. Architect Friedrich von Thiersch created what Kaiser Wilhelm II called “the most beautiful spa building in the world” at it’s opening ceremony.
The casino today sits inside the former wine hall of the Kurhaus. In addition to roulette and American roulette, black jack and poker are also played. And you can choose from 170 slot machines.
Today, the Wiesbaden Spielbank is considered by many to be the most beautiful casino in the world with its Art Nouveau architectural style, lush interior decorations, statues, and traditional gaming options (combined with modern-day games as well).
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