Gambling with One’s Future

Bagni di Lucca’s casinò (accent on the last ‘o’ please since ‘casìno’ means either a cock-up or a brothel) remains one of its most noble buildings.

The Regio (Royal) Casinò, to give its full title, was built between 1838 and 1839 by the great Lucca architect Lorenzo Nottolini (1787-1851) and was the first purpose-built such building in Italy and probably the first casinò in Italy.

Today, however, it’s not a casinò anymore. Italy has four casini: at Campione d’Italia, an enclave on Lake Lugano, at Sanremo, at Saint Vincent in Val’d’Aosta and at Venice. Bagni di Lucca’s casinò has lost its license a while back and the Italian government has no intention of issuing new licenses, at least for the foreseeable future.

The origins of Bagni’s casinò date back to the time of Matilde di Canossa (that formidable lady I’ve described in a recent post at when a study afternoon was dedicated to her). Pilgrims and those seeking the curative qualities of Bagni’s spa waters had to be housed and fed even if they had no funds to pay for their stay. The solution was to kill two birds with one stone, forbidding gambling in inns and taverns and confining it to the regulated area of the spa where income could be generated by taxing the pay-outs.

After some time in the original spa buildings at terme antiche, which are still to be viewed today, the present casinò was built by order of Carlo Ludovico, Lucca’s last duke. Despite some brilliant occasions which also included concerts featuring Franz Liszt himself, the casinò entered a long period of decline and closed when its license was not renewed in 1953.

(Decorative roundels in the Casinò)

In 1981 the casino was restored and re-opened by mayor Tintori but was closed down after only a few minutes by order of the prefect of Lucca: no license no casinò! The building was, however, used for presentations, conferences and exhibitions. When we first arrived here in 2005 it housed the tourist information bureau and internet centre under the courteous management of (now retired) Leda.

In 2009 the casinò’s gambling functions were, in part, restored by the installation of slot machines and robot roulette. This equipment was fully legal but the experiment did not last long. In many respects, although the idea was a promising one, the aspect of the beautiful neo-classically decorated rooms was cheapened and the public was certainly not a particularly distinguished one – basically, if one wanted to play the slot machines one could have done exactly the same, meet more friends and get a greater choice of drinks at one’s local bar.

Even more disappointing was the fact that the casinò could no longer be used for events and exhibitions as the beautiful lily ballroom was now filled up with the clutter of electronic gambling machines. However, in 2012, under the newly elected mayor Betti the casino returned into the comune’s hands and the offending apparatus was despatched.

(The Casinò’s Lily Ballroom with the musicians’ gallery)

I do not feel that the casinò could ever return to its original purpose even if the Italian government decided to renew its license (at present only possible by removing the license from one of the other four casini). At the very most a small section of the building could be devoted to a history of gambling in Bagni di Lucca but the real future of the splendid rooms in these elegant buildings lies in the sensible programming of events, festivals, shows, presentations and parties.

May the grand old lady of Bagni di Lucca Ponte continue to enjoy her graceful retirement without the addition of modern baubles!

(Features from the casinò including the trompe-d’oeil entrance gallery) 


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