Gambling has been a popular pastime for the “high circles” for centuries. The history is filled with stories about people who tried to beat the odds at various games, mostly roulette.
Crowned heads, scholars and soldiers were engaged in an everyday gambling habit (Richard the Lionhearted was known for often playing the dice, and French philosopher René Descartes was also an avid gambler all his life). But perhaps the most famous of all was 18th century adventurer and polymath Giacomo Casanova.
Gambling is perhaps not the first thing to come to mind when you hear the name Casanova. His name has become a synonym for “womanizer” – his elaborate affairs with the opposite sex have made him famous beyond belief. But his contemporaries considered him a a man of far-ranging intellect and curiosity, and one of the most extraordinary persons of those times. He was a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, pimp, gourmand, dancer, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, a writer and a professional gambler.
Gambling was a common – and quite popular – recreational activity in the circles in which he moved. Casanova discusses several forms of gambling of the 18th century – lotteries, faro, biribi, basset, quinze, whist, and primero, the earliest known card game related to modern day poker. Casanova gambled through all his adult life, often cheating and teaming up with other professional gamblers to win large amounts. According to his memoirs, he was tutored by professional gamblers, but has never become a professional of his own due to his temper. He was often described to act out violently when losing large amounts – such events often ended with a duel. In his own words: “I had neither prudence enough to leave off when fortune was adverse, nor sufficient control over myself when I had won”. He considered gambling to be not a profession, but a means to achieve a goal – earn quick money, make connections, prove himself to be a gentleman, or even courting the beautiful object of his desire.
Should he have been born a few centuries later, Casanova would have been overwhelmed by the multitude of gambling opportunities. Aside from the gambling capitals of the world, gambling is now available for players all over the globe through the internet.
Giacomo Casanova was a womanizer, indeed, but also a talented writer, a licensed lawyer, and a passionate gambler, who lived a life of pleasure and glamour. His adventures could fill volumes, and his love for life should serve as an example for many people of today.