5 oldest casinos in the world

While gambling has been around since humans first began recognising patterns and throwing animal knuckles, formalising the rules of the various games and putting them in a (very often incredibly fancy) building is a more recent development – at least, recent in terms of the millennia that have passed before.

Here in sunny South Africa, we have a bunch of casinos but it occurred to the CasinoPlay crew that none of them are actually very old. Our oldest casino, the Grand Dame of gambling in Mzansi, is Sun City and that’s only been around since 1979. A mere 42 years, a blink of the eye when compared to how long humans have been playing games of chance.

This led to quite a heated discussion on where the oldest casino actually is. Las Vegas is iconic, and rightly so, but it’s still not old enough to house the oldest casino. London? Paris? Monte Carlo? Or maybe there’s a casino in India or Iraq that has been around for centuries?

We did a little digging and bring you the 5 oldest casinos in the world – with some rules:

It has to be the age of the casino, not when it was a hotel or a gentleman’s club and then became a casino.

Saloons and gambling houses count because they were technically casinos even if they weren’t ‘fancified’.

It must still be operating as a recognised casino.

5 oldest casinos in the world

5. Casino de Monte Carlo – Monte Carlo, Monaco

An obvious member of our exclusive oldest casino club, the Casino de Monte Carlo was founded in 1856. The original casino was moved to new premises in 1863 but this small relocation still means it retains its place at 4th on our list (like really small, the whole of Monaco is smaller than Central Park, a fact which never ceases to amaze considering it has the world’s highest population density and the world’s greatest concentration of millionaires and billionaires).

An interesting fact about the Casino de Monte Carlo is that it was conceived and brought to life by Princess Caroline of the House Grimaldi as a way to keep the royal family and the Principality of Monaco out of bankruptcy. With Casino de Monte Carlo being one of the most recognised and visited casinos in the world, we would have to say her idea worked!

Casino de Monte Carlo is the epitome of class and luxury and a testament to the grandeur of the early casinos that sought to attract the wealthy and the elite.

One other interesting fact about Casino de Monte Carlo and Monaco in general: even though it’s one of the top 3 gambling destinations in the world (along with Las Vegas and Monaco), and even though it features 4 top-end casinos in its less than 2km2 land area, the citizens of Monaco are forbidden from stepping foot inside any of the casinos within the Principality.

5 oldest casinos in the world

4. Kurhaus Baden-Baden – Baden-Baden, Germany

Kurhaus Baden-Baden regularly competes for title of oldest casino in Germany with #3 on our list and we are giving it 4th place for reasons we will expand on later.

Kurhaus Baden-Baden is definitely one of the oldest casinos in Germany and the world, having been designed in 1824. It was during the 1830’s that it rose to prominence as a casino destination and attracted European gamblers who wanted to make use of the healing waters of the nearby spring but also have somewhere they could engage in other forms of entertainment as well.

Interestingly, these venues for wellness centres and spas seem to attract a very gambling-minded audience as you will see in the next two entries. Maybe it’s got something to do with the water?

Kurhaus at Baden-Baden attracted the wealthy and the famous and was apparently the inspiration behind Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous work The Gambler, although, with the amount of time he spent at roulette tables between Casino Wiesbaden, Kurhaus Baden-Baden, and the casinos of Homburg and Saxon-les-Bains, his inspiration and eventual ruin could be attributed to either or all of these gambling palaces.

The elegance of Kurhaus Baden-Baden and its air of exclusivity and elegance led to Marlene Dietrich calling it “the most beautiful casino in the world”, a claim that still holds true today where the essence of that bygone era is preserved in the fittings, attention to detail, opulence and continued ratings on the lists of best casinos in the world.

5 oldest casinos in the world

3. Casino Wiesbaden – Wiesbaden, Germany

Although there is a dispute as to whether the Casino Wiesbaden is the oldest casino in Germany or whether the Kurhaus at Baden-Baden deserves that honour, we have decided to go with Casino Wiesbaden for a number of reasons:

  • The original kurhaus (‘cure house’ or a spa for wellness) was built in 1810, beating the kurhaus at Baden-Baden by a good 14 years.
  • Casino Wisebaden was offering gambling long before the Kurhaus at Baden-Baden became a destination for players in 1834.
  • The site of the kurhaus in Wiesbaden was a gathering place for centuries and well-known as far back as Roman times when the invading Roman soldiers would recuperate at the healing waters (and, knowing the Roman love for gambling, almost definitely play some dice).
  • The Kurhaus at Baden-Baden is regularly featured on lists of famous and best casinos so we think we’ll give this title to Casino Wiesbaden.

Apart from all the above, the over 200-year history of Casino Wiesbaden has ensured that it has a well-deserved history and a very positive future on the cards. Casino Wiesbaden is currently home to the “highest roulette stakes in Germany” which is bringing it a lot of attention to add to its historic surroundings and storied past. A past which includes its reputation as the place where Fyodor Dostoevsky lost everything on one spin of the roulette wheel ­– something we mention in our ‘Best Gambling Books’ article.

5 oldest casinos in the world

2. Casino de Spa – Spa, Belgium

Casino de Spa was built in 1769 to offer the wealthy visitors to the famous healing baths of Spa a place to relax and play games of chance – and to separate said wealthy visitors from some of their wealth.

Casino de Spa often claims to be the world’s oldest casino but records do prove that #1 on our list has a far more valid claim to the title. Casino de Spa also had an extended period where – due to the Liege Revolution, some devastating fires, a government ban on gambling and a couple of World Wars in between – the casino was not actually in operation.

Nevertheless, Casino de Spa deserves its place as the runner-up to world’s oldest casino on our list as it is still in operation despite its many setbacks.

Apart from the gloriously restored buildings that harken back to a more opulent time, its lush and impressive grounds and its location in the centre of an area that pretty much invented the concept of a retreat for physical and mental rejuvenation, Casino de Spa was the first ‘gaming palace’ that offered more than just games of chance, it also offered theatres, ballrooms and fine dining for the guests. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the basis for all modern casinos and the mega-entertainment venues they have become.

The modern Casino de Spa has all the glitz and glam you expect of a casino, and all the games you could wish for. The 1,500m2 of gaming floor offers 160 slot machines and 10 table games. One of the most outstanding features of the gaming tables is the two French roulette tables with original fittings. There is a second floor to the casino that is dedicated to poker with 15 tables offering Texas Hold’em and Omaha poker.


5 oldest casinos in the world

1. Casino di Venezia – Venice, Italy

The oldest casino in the world!

Casino di Venezia can trace its roots back to 1638 – that’s 380+ years of courting Lady Luck and bringing games of chance to lovers of gambling.

The history of Casino di Venezia begins as Il Ridotto in the Palazzo Dandolo, a magnificent mansion/palace owned by the patrician Dandolo family. A ‘ridotto’ was a private room where the wealthy would gather to entertain themselves and share news and gossip. Love affairs, political intrigues, conversation and the latest news about world events all took place within these ‘withdrawing rooms’ – as did gambling, one of the Venetians’ favourite pastimes.

While technically illegal, the authorities turned a blind eye to the antics of the wealthy and privileged (not much has changed in the modern world) until they realised just how much money was up for grabs. Il Ridotto soon became the world’s very first legit, authorised and official casino.

This didn’t mean there was a sudden rush to hit the tables. Casino di Venezia was exclusively for the privileged. If you weren’t a part of the ruling class you were not allowed through the doors. Guests had to abide by a very formal dress code that included ‘bauta’, black and white masks that covered the entire face. The only people not required to wear the masks were the croupiers and a certain group of ‘impoverished’ nobility.

The Ridotto Publicco at Palazzo Dandolo painted by Francesco Guardi in the 1760’s gives us a glimpse into life at what is now known as Casino di Venezia.

The games on offer were also very different to what we would see in a modern casino. No banks of slot machines for a start. They would only be invented centuries later. Biribi and Basetta were hugely popular.

Biribi was an early combination of lottery and roulette where players would bet on numbers. The banker would draw a ticket with a number and the winner (the person who chose that number) would get 64 times their stake. All other stakes went to the banker.

Basetta was a card game mash-up between poker and blackjack.

The stakes at the world’s first casino were incredibly high and fortunes were regularly made or lost. These high stakes were another reason that the lower classes were banned from the casino.

The Casino di Venezia today retains that sense of the historic first casino and is an amazing sight for visitors to Venice and for lovers of the casino world. It’s a step back in time to an era of opulence and decadence and a must-see if you are a player who happens to have the good fortune of visiting this historic city if only to see the difference between this venerated casino and what we see in the modern versions.


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