Gambling Legends – Giacomo Casanova

There was a gambling frenzy in 18th century’s European High Society, it was within these privileged and often debauched circles that the most famous lover in history moved, Casanova.

Giacomo Jacopo Casanova, the Italian adventurer and rogue had an appetite for gambling as voracious as his appetite for women. He was a wanderer who travelled around Europe and everywhere he went as he described in his memoirs “pleasure, gaming and idleness were my usual companions.”

For Casanova gambling was more than just a passion, it was his living too. At the age of 20 he writes, “I had to earn my living in one way or another, and I decided on the profession of gamester.” He quickly became penniless spending his last on a game of cards; however, his charm ensured that he managed to borrow enough money to get him back on his feet and back into the game. Throughout his life, he was incredibly lucky in his gambling and overall won more often than he lost, despite being plunged into poverty when he was having a bad run Casanova always seemed to come out on top.

Faro was his favourite game, this was a very popular game of the day. According to his memoirs, a faro bank at Lyons once took 300,000 from Casanova in one day. Once in Venice he lost 5000 sequins (gold pieces) in just two days at the faro table. As usual, he soon recouped his losses; or rather, his mistress of the day recouped them for him!

On another occasion when lady luck had run out on Casanova another lady came to his rescue, “”I played on the martingale (a doubling-up system), but with such bad luck that I was soon left without a sequin. I was obliged to tell [the lady] of my losses, and it was at her request that I sold all her diamonds, losing what I got for them…. I still gamed, but for small stakes, waiting for the slow return of good luck.”

The famous playboy also had a head for business. In the 1760’s Casanova organized a government lottery in Paris. A lottery was required because a French nobleman requested 20,000,000 francs from the king to set up a military school. Despite being in favor of the school, the king was reluctant to put up taxes to pay for it for fear of loosing popularity with the public at large. Casanova hearted about the kings predicament and presented him with an idea for a lottery to raise the cash.

Casanova felt sure that a lottery would not only provide the necessary funds but that the lottery would be so popular that the king would turn a profit on the scheme. With the kings personal endorsement of honesty Casanova hoped that the public would gamble heavily on this new lottery.

After some lobbying, the idea was accepted and Casanova and his associates were hired as officers of the crown to organize the lottery.

“With the idea of drawing custom to my office, I gave notice that all winning tickets bearing my signature would be paid at my office in twenty-four hours after the drawing. This drew crowds to my office and considerably increased my profits…. A number of the clerks in the other offices were foolish enough to complain to Calsabigi [his partner] that I had spoilt their gains, but he sent them about their business telling them that to get the better of me they had only to do as I did-if they had the money.

“My first taking amounted to forty thousand francs. An hour after the draw¬ing my clerk brought me the numbers, and showed me that we had from seven¬teen to eighteen thousand francs to pay, for which I gave him the necessary funds.

He goes on, “The total receipts [from the first day, throughout France] amounted to two millions, and the administration made a profit of six hundred thousand francs, of which Paris alone had contributed a hundred thousand francs. This was well enough for a first attempt.” A resounding success.

For the rest of his life Casanova was an avid gambler, in addition to being remembered as histories greatest lover he should be remembered as one of histories most charismatic gamblers.