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Bath Time – With Chips in Tuscany

The Casino Bagni di Lucca

If anyone asked you where was the first casino in Europe, what would you say?

Monte Carlo?

If so, you would be wrong, because the first legal casino was opened in Italy in a place you’ve probably never heard of in Northern Tuscany called Bagni di Lucca.

The Royal Casino in Ponte a Serraglio, a district of Bagni di Lucca, was the first public casino in Europe. Gambling was already popular in the area and people would gather in one of the buildings in Bagni Caldi, which now houses the thermal baths, until Carlo Lodovico di Borbone commissioned Giuseppe Pardini to build the casino in 1837.

The Casino Bagni di Lucca
The Casino Bagni di Lucca Photo Jenny Mead

However, gambling had been taking place in Bagni di Lucca Terme (thermal spa) since the 14th century and the original hall that was used as a meeting place and casino still exists, sanctioning it as the oldest Casino in Europe, this was until 1837 when the Casino at Ponte a Serraglio was opened. Today in the hall traces of the old decorations that made the place exclusive and refined are still visible.

The original Casino Room in the Thermal Baths. Photo Jenny Mead
The original Casino Room in the Thermal Baths.
Photo Jenny Mead

Here, from what people say, the first roulette in Europe was played. European aristocracy gambled fortunes at “biribosso”, a game of chance using numbered counters, said to be the beginnings of roulette. Several early gambling games were originally played in Bagni di Lucca.

The restored Ceiling of the original room. Photo Jenny Mead
The restored Ceiling of the original room.
Photo Jenny Mead

It had been regulated since 1308, when the Republic of Lucca ordered this and decided that all profits would go towards continuing a tradition established by Countess Matilda di Canossa. According to the “Gran Contessa”, all pilgrims and poor people coming through the Thermal Baths were to be given a “bagno curativo” and a meal free of charge. After the death of the Countess, they continued with the tradition, but this became very expensive and the government did not want to raise taxes. For this reason, they decided to regulate the gambling that was already taking place in the inns and taverns of the region and to use the profits to pay for this charitable work. The thermal baths were the only cure available for many illnesses at a time when there were not many other options available.

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The spa attracted many famous visitors, numbering amongst others Byron, Shelley, List, Puccini, Strauss and Giuseppina Bonaparte. Rumour also has it that Queen Victoria’s hemophiliac son, Leopold, was also treated there and often visited by his mother.

I can just imagine the aristocracy indulging in the delight of the “wellness” they received from the thermal treatments and then repairing to the casino to gamble away their fortunes and perhaps sample the other delights on offer.

The very word ‘Casinò’ is of Italian origin, being derived from ‘casa’, meaning house. This is not to be confused with ‘Casino’ (without an accented o and pronounced cassino), meaning a brothel. Perhaps the correlation between the two words is not altogether coincidental!

By David Wineman 

David Wineman
David Wineman

David Wineman is the pen name of a retired international businessman who has always harboured a passion for writing.

Having retired from a life of travel to Barga in Tuscany, David found himself with enough to time to write and the result was this debut novel Simon Says.

You can find out more about David’s book here: Simon Says by David Wineman

Or visit David’s website: David Wineman

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