Aug 22
by Rolka Nation

As you may recall from a previous post, I was lucky enough to recently travel to Italy for a whirlwind 11-day journey.  Traveling all across the country, I certainly saw a lot and it was undoubtedly an amazing experience.  If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italia and haven’t yet…go.  Seriously, just go.  You’ll make more money.  You’re not getting any younger.  The time is now, do it.  Listen to Pittsburgh Gil.  Listen, learn, embrace, and embark. 

The first stop on the trip was in Venezia.  Yes…that’s the same as Venice.  I don’t understand why we have to slightly change foreign city’s names just to make it a little easier to pronounce for us.  That makes no sense to me and just screams ignorance and laziness.  It’s Roma, not Rome.  Firenze, not Florence.  And Venezia.  It’s not hard.  I’m sure these name changes were rooted hundreds of years ago…but why did it happen in the first place?  It’ stupid.  Matthew Broderick’s ancestors probably had something to do with it I’m sure.  So yeah, I will refer to it soley as Venezia. 

Venezia was definitely a highlight of the trip.  It’s a truly unique place in this world which is unfortunately becoming so increasingly rare.  One can’t help but be awe-struck by the tiny streets lined with cafes, the liveliness of a crowded public square as an orchestra plays, the sight of the ceiling of San Marco’s Basilica, peering down a side alley at 5 gondolas in transit, or the fact that the city’s essential bridges are works of art all in themselves.  The city has a charm all its own and should remain that way forever. 

Ok, on to the subject matter of this blog…gambling.  Upon arriving in Venezia, we took an airport bus to the last possible point where automobiles could go.  After getting off the bus and beginning our walk to the hotel, you come across a bustling area where pedestrians can hop on a water taxi or vaporetti, the town’s public bus-like boat system.  It was here that I noticed a boat for Casino di Venezia welcoming guests to whisk them off to the casino’s front doors.  I, naturally, knew that I would patron this casino at some point. 

Turns out, Casino di Venezia sits right on the Grand Canal and was only about a ten minute walk from my hotel.  Once the trip itinerary came into focus, I planned on a visit during my last night in Venezia.  This ended up being an incredibly interesting experience.

An understated entrance to be sure.

A little history of the joint.  It was once a grand palace built for one of the city’s elite, wealthy families.  Venezia was at one time the richest city in all of Europe and was the place to be in the 15-17th centuries.  Colorful, vast palaces lined the Grand Canal and they are all still standing today, although not all are functional.  The casino resides in one of these great structures.  It was built in 1481 and finished in 1509.  Apparently, the original residents of the palace enjoyed their gaming and would have near nightly parties where other Venetian big-wigs would come and blow a lot of money.  Therefore, the casino has been a gambling den in some shape or form for 500 years.  Amazing.

Now on to my actual visit.  I must admit, I was a little intimidated as I was going alone and had no real idea of what to expect.  The building in itself is very impressive and it certainly was not anything close to the style of casino that we know and love here.  There were very few people directly inside, the actual gaming areas were nowhere to be seen, and there were 3 security guards at entry.  But this didn’t stop me.

One’s initial step when going here for the first time is to visit a front desk where you sign up for entry and get your picture taken.  I also had to show my passport and buy my first 10 euros worth of chips or slot money right then and there.  Yep, no loitering in this place.  You gotta play to stay!

Once that was taken care of, I went up the first flight of stairs and found a pretty small slot room.  Slots were typical of ones we have here, but all video reel.  I quickly blasted through about 20 euro with very little to show for it.  Without a drink in my hand, the slots got old pretty fast so I decided to hit up the tables.  The table game area was up another 2 flights of stairs, so I meandered my way up and was met by a suited old man at the door.  I showed my sign-up card and tried to enter but he wasn’t having any of this.  He spoke in Italian to which I had no idea what he was saying.  Once he realized I couldn’t understand him, he called over another guy who then informed me that I must have a jacket on to enter.  WOW!  This was certainly a first for me.  Of course, I did not have one on me but I was directed to the coat check room where I borrowed one for a 50 euro deposit.  This was getting even more intimidating. 

Yeah I needed a jacket as you can see here.

So now, looking dashing in a coat about a size too big with jeans and a polo on, I entered the tables area.  What a room!  High ceilings, well-lit, players in tuxes, women in evening gowns, incredibly works of art on the wall, grand chandeliers, this was definitely not Vegas.  I couldn’t help but feel like Daniel Craig taking on Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. 

The room had several different side areas each containing a different game.  In the main hall, 3 busy roulette tables were in full swing along with a card game that I didn’t even recognize over in the corner that was also in high demand.  Most people were standing at the roulette tables and the layouts were bigger than in the US.  There were also a couple of other betting options that I did not recognize either.  And of course, as is the norm outside of the US, only single zero thus reducing the house edge in half. 

I wanted to play but it didn’t take long for me to realize I was out of my league!  All 3 tables were very busy and a few people were actually playing on two of them simultaneously.  I watched as one older gentleman and one middle-aged woman dropped probably 12-15 FIFY EURO chips on the board with each spin.  If you add that up, we’re talking about $800 a spin!  And they were throwin’ em around like Tic-Tacs.  Simply jaw-dropping.

So yeah, that coupled with the fact that I couldn’t read the board outside of the numbers, and I went looking for some blackjack.  The BJ tables were tucked away in the back and there were about 5 of them.  None of them were busy, maybe 2-3 guys at each and it was a pretty quiet room.  Again…intimidating.  I almost bailed but decided that I would regret it if I didn’t play a table game of some sort in Venezia. 

So I sat down at a table, cashed in 100 euro  (10 euro limit), and started playing with two others.  The chips here were even unique.  They were oval-shaped, not perfectly round, and were translucent and very light weight and soft.  I played about 6 or 7 hands, won about half of them and then the other two gentlemen left.  I was then told by the dealer that there was a 2-square minimum.  So…if I wanted to keep playing I had to play two hands.  Yikes.  Needless to say, I was chipless about 15 minutes later although I did hit a couple of blackjacks in that timeframe.  It did pay 3-2. 

Once I was cashed out, I nodded to the dealer, threw a chip his way, and headed out.  My total visit was about 90 minutes and I blew through 120 euro very quickly.  I was a little bummed because the night was so young.  It was about 11pm and the atmosphere along the streets was in full swing.  Near the hotel, I found my way to a little cafe on the Grand Canal and sat down for a drink.  This place was surprisingly not very crowded, but not anywhere near empty either.  I found a table right on the Canal and ordered up a vodka and tonic.  Every mixed drink I had in Italy was awesome by the way, as is the local beer. 

As I sat there overlooking the water on that sultry, moonlit Venetian night, I suddenly was struck with the fact of what I had just done.  I went into a casino housed in a 500 year old palace, lost a decent amount of money, left, and was now relaxing and enjoying a beverage under the stars. 

It hit me that this was the exact way that many a wealthy Venetian had spent their evenings over the past half-millennium.  That same building, those same games, those same cobble-stone alleyways, those same cafes…since 1509.  I became blissfully lost in this realization and felt a sense of honor wash over me.  At that moment, I was no longer a tourist, but a living part of a vibrant Venetian night.  A local for an evening.  Drenched in history, plunged within timelessness, and adrift on the small waves of the winding canals.

In no other spot on this planet could I have had that same experience except for right there in Venezia.  Many have asked me what my favorite part of the trip was.  While it’s nearly impossible to name just one “part”…I have just told you about my favorite single moment.