Friday, February 13, 2009

Gimme Some Good, Honest Gambling

(Venice, Italy) That image you see is Pietro Longhi's (November 5, 1701 - May 8, 1785) painting of Il Ridotto. The white mask that both the men and women are wearing is called a "bauta," and is a classic Venetian mask, and was worn not only during Carnival, but also to outings, such as the opera. The small black oval mask that only the women are wearing is called a "moretta." The moretta was kept in place by a button that the women bit with their teeth, so they could not speak. They had to use their eyes to communicate.

From Giacomo Casanova's A History of My Life:

She would, perhaps, have answered me if she could, but with a mask of this kind it is impossible to speak a word. Still, she said a great deal with a squeeze of her hand, which no one could see. ...

What was Il Ridotto?

From David G. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Center for Gaming Research
University of Nevada Las Vegas:

ridotto = ridurre, to reduce, close, or make private
Originally aristocratic gathering places for social games

"Today, casino gaming is a multi-billion dollar per year worldwide industry. Though gambling is as old as humanity, until the 15th century social gambling—games played among peers at equal odds—predominated. But around that time, paralleling the emergence of banks and modern finance, a new type of gambling emerged: mercantile gambling. Mercantile gamblers offered their customers games that featured a built-in discrepancy between true odds and payouts, or statistical imbalances that favored the house.

These mercantile games (known today as bank games) started with the lottery but soon grew to include card and dice games. The pioneers of mercantile gambling unleashed a two-fold revolution: they made possible the pursuit of gambling as an honest profession, and they set the stage for public interest gambling, in which a portion of gambling revenues are redirected towards the public good. In 1638, the Venetian Great Council took the revolutionary step of creating a legal, licensed “ridotto” in which the public could play mercantile games against the house. Though this “experiment” only lasted 136 years, it was the ancestor of today’s casino industry."

Dr. Schwartz has written extensively on the subject of gambling. To visit his website, click here:

Il Ridotto was not only about gambling. It was a place to socialize, talk (if you weren't wearing a moretta:) and basically... hang out. It was like a salon, only more public, yet still private. The masks added an air of not just anonymity, but it reduced (il ridotto means "the reduced") human beings right down to their core.

From the Ridotto website, a musical organization in New York founded by Dutch woman, Margaretha Maimone:

In the city of Venice, a wealthy upper class socialized not only in their homes, but also in theatres and the adjacent ridotti. The ridotto was a space behind the theatres, much like a foyer, where visitors of all layers of society mingled and engaged in discussion, gambling, or other spirited forms of entertainment. Most visitors wore masks. It was the famous black and white bauta which made recognition virtually impossible.

In the late 18th century all ridotti were closed by the Doge of Venice on the suspicion of conspiracy, only to be re-opened as state-run casinos. All profits now went to the impoverished Republic.

That image, which has nothing to do with except for the Dutch association in my brain, is a painting by Pietro Guardi illustrating Clara the rhinoceros, brought to town by a Dutch sea captain named Douvemont van der Meer (1741).

Click to go to the site:

Here in Venice, in 2007, our own Casinò got into the act. From an article in the UK Telegraph, by Malcolm Moore, entitled Fireworks as Venice sells off its Carnival:

The plan to transfer Venice's pomp and pageantry into private hands was drawn up by the mayor, Massimo Cacciari, and the casino, which last year under-wrote much of the €1.4 million (£1m) cost of the carnival.
The city hopes that privatisation will improve the running of the events and draw lucrative corporate sponsorship. "The job of the company," said Mauro Pizzigati, the head of the casino, "will be to organise the events and find sponsors. Sponsors will have at their disposal rooms at the best hotels for their guests, tickets, exclusive tables and deals with the casino. We have already had contact from some big names."

These days, in the middle of the worst financial crisis in recent history, it is interesting to note that the new governor of Illinois, Roland Burris, who filled Barack Obama's seat, also has an interest in gambling. He was on the board of the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

From Wikipedia:

"The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) is an American nonprofit group, associated with Harvard University, that funds scientific research on gambling addiction.[1] It was founded in 1996.[2] The group is a wing of the American Gaming Association, the casino industry's main trade group.[1]

The NCRG founded the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders (IRPGRD) in 2000. While housed at an institution affiliated with Harvard, the IRPGRD remains dependent on casino funding, channeled through the NCRG. This arrangement has led some critics to question the independence of the IRPGRD's research.[3] IRPGRD executive director Christine Reilly told that the institute's contract with the NCRG stipulates that the industry not interfere with its work."

Senator Burris has got his eye firmly on the tomb. He has already built his mausoleum:

"Burris has built a mausoleum for himself and his family in Oak Woods Cemetery on Chicago's South Side. His tombstone proclaims, "Trail Blazer," and includes a list of his accomplishments, with space left for future ones.[3][4]"

Just last week, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, who is openly gay and also thinks we should be gambling a lot more than we do, is pushing forward with internet gambling legislation. From the February 4, 2009 Poker News Daily:

"In an interview with the Financial Times this week, it was revealed that Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) will reintroduce legislation favorable to internet gambling “in the next few weeks.” During the previous Congress, Frank introduced HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, which established a full licensing and regulatory framework for the industry in the United States."

I don't know if it's just me, but something about the desperate situation we find ourselves in these days reminds me of Islamic suicide bombers promised virgins in heaven. Gambling online with a computer is just not the same as getting all dolled up in a bauta and matching wits with other human beings.

Venetian Cat has formulated its own Financial Crisis Recovery Plan. In addition to bailing out Banks and Other Industries, I propose that we give each and every one of us here on the planet about 500 bucks with the stipulation that WE MUST GAMBLE WITH THE MONEY. It would be a very interesting social experiment. Think of the possibilities! An impoverished family in Africa dying of AIDS strikes it rich and can afford treatment. A poor, brilliant teenager in Oklahoma who has given up all chances to go to university hits the jackpot. An Honest Man, Anytown, Anywhere, who has worked his Entire Life and paid All His Bills but Just Can't Keep Up and is About To Blow His Brains Out wins enough to keep his house. Then, perhaps, everyone will at least have the illusion that they are in The Game.
Now, where, oh where is my moretta?

Ciao from Venice,


  1. Great post! I agree you can't match the feeling of gambling with other people rather than thru the internet.
    Also I guess you know of Campione which allows you to have residence there, as long as you visit their casino once a year, very clever!

  2. Thanks for this post, Venetian Cat!

    Your readers may be interested to know that they can admire many paintings by Pietro Longhi - including Il Ridotto - by visiting the Galleries of Leoni Montanari Palace, in Vicenza, a venetian town near Venice.

    The main body of the collection exhibited in the Galleries of Leoni Montanari Palace includes a corpus of fourteen paintings by Pietro Longhi and his school, and the urban views and “capricci” by Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Luca Carlevarijs, Michele Marieschi, Francesco Albotto, Marco Ricci.