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History

00.jpgLuckily enough, (and when speaking of games of chance luck is always of the essence), the end of a war often coincides with the beginning of both public works and private business ventures which improve the lot of the people who have been worst-hit by the conflict. After the end of the war it was the inspired idea of Mayor Elia Page to bet on good fortune – not his own, but that of other people. He thought that a casino was exactly what was needed: gamblers in search of luck would help restore the fortunes of the region. Saint-Vincent has been a tourist attraction for a very long time – from 20 July 1770 to be precise. On that day the abbot Jean-Baptiste Perret, a passionate chemist and minerologist, discovered a spring which he believed to have therapeutic benefits. Tests confirmed his theory and the ‘Fons Salutis’ (the Spring of Health) became a tourist attraction. During the summers months of the years 1827 to 1829, Queen Maria Teresa, wife of Vittorio Emanuele I of Sardinia, and her three daughters, the princesses Maria Anna, Maria Cristina and Beatrice Maria, underwent the spa cure, staying at Challant Castle in neighbouring Châtillon. Thereafter, the high society of Northern Italy began to visit Saint-Vincent in order to take the waters. In 1850 Silvio Pellico spent time at the priest’s house, after his imprisonment in the Spielberg fortress. In 1854 it was the turn of another Queen: Maria Teresa, widow of Carlo Alberto, who tried (alas in vain) to recuperate at the spa. The boom times arrived for the spa and the Alpine Riviera after the middle of the century. By 1872 the area already boasted three hotels: the ‘Scudo di Francia’, ‘l'Hôtel des Quatre-Saisons’ e ‘l'Hôtel du Lion d'Or’ (the latter is still in business today). There was also a ‘casino’ of sorts, but it was more of a club, where people could meet to talk, listen to music and dance, than a place for gambling; indeed no gambling ever took place there.

00.jpg In 1898 Queen Margherita spent time in Saint-Vincent , where she enjoyed the therapeutic benefits of the ‘Fons Salutis’; as a result, the spa town became known as ‘The Italian Karlsbad’. In 1921 the Mayor, Elia Page, applied to the Sub-Prefect of Aosta for permission to open a roulette room over the summer months. The sub-prefect agreed, but stressed the importance of keeping public order in the town, reminding the Mayor that this was his responsibility. That very summer, in the grand Kursaal room, the betting began; by September the local government had raised enough money, through taxes relating to gambling, to pay off the vast debt it had accrued after its project of canal construction in the mountains. Towards the end of World War II the National Liberation Committee re-elected Elia Page. A few months later, on 6 November 1945, Page wrote to the Minister of Home Affairs – a post which, probably unbeknown to him, was temporarily held by the Head of the Government, Ferruccio Parri. Page applied for ‘exclusive permission to provide gambling games in the Aosta Valley for a period of 15 years’. He explained that ‘the majority of problems currently experienced by the town council of Saint-Vincent, and the councils of other towns in the Aosta Valley, are due to inadequate infrastructure; these problems would undoubtedly be resolved by money raised from the Casino.’ Page assured the Minister that he would notify him when ‘the negotiations with the company that can provide the best offer reach a serious stage’. This letter displays the Mayor’s determination to achieve his goal. The request of Saint-Vincent’s Mayor was never officially answered, partly because the Parri Government fell on 23 November. 10 December marked the beginning of Alcide De Gaspari’s Government, which was preoccupied with other matters … Nevertheless, certain politicians, speaking ‘off-the-record’, communicated the Government’s willingness to grant permission to Page. Having received this unofficial ‘green light’ from the Government, Page took up pen and paper again and addressed a similar request, in French, to the Head of the Council of Aosta, the historian Federico Chabod. He wrote: "a cui scrisse "forzando un po' la mano" che "le Gouvernement de Rome fit savoir, officiellement, que la précaire situation économique de la Vallée d'Aoste, son importance touristique et sa particulière situation géographique directement en contact avec deux pays étrangers et amis, appuyaient indiscutablement la demande" e la richiesta divenne "pour la période minime d'une vingtaine d'années". Two factors made the granting of the official permission to open the Casino very difficult: Italian law explicitly prohibits gambling, and the Government was, at the time, waiting for the Special Statute of 1948, which would define the specific role and powers of the President of the Aosta Valley region. These difficulties notwithstanding, on 3 April 1946, a law was passed which granted permission to open the Casino. The decree, which authorized the casino for 20 years, referred to article 12 of the ‘lieutenant law’ (n. 545 of 7/9/1945), which had granted autonomy to the Aosta Valley. This article gave the region administrative powers over ‘tourism projects, hotels, environmental conservation, and the conservation of historical monuments and artefacts’.

02While it could be said that including a casino within this definition was stretching it a bit, it could also be regarded as a stroke of genius. On 13 May 1946 the Regional Council accepted all of the legal conditions relating to the Casino and, on 17 May, they decided how they would divide the Casino’s profits between the concessionaire and the region. Finalizing the agreement, and all the bureaucratic red-tape that entailed, delayed the opening of the Casino. However, at 21.00 o’clock sharp on 21 March 1947, the Head Croupier, Robert Semeghini, made the momentous announcement ‘Gentlemen, place your bets’. The three customers, a textile industrialist from Biella, a lawyer from Casale Monferrato and a shop-owner from Turin, then made their bets (the legendary discretion of the croupier was in evidence from the very beginning of the Casino’s history as the names of the three gamblers were never revealed.) White chips of 100 Lire, and red chips of 200, were scattered, like so many little flowers, across the green mat on the table. A member of the staff, Antonio Rolleri, picked up the little ivory ball, gave the roulette-wheel a clockwise spin, then threw the ball in anti-clockwise. After a few laps around the diamond-studded track at the wheel’s circumference, the little ivory messenger of fortune leaped into the spinning wheel in the middle, bounced around the numbered pockets, then finally fell into pocket number nine. ‘Neuf, rouge, impair et manque’(‘Nine, red, odd, and from 1 to 18’). So the casino had officially started to bring economic benefits to Saint-Vincent and the Aosta Valley. If you wish to widen your knowledge about the lovely village of Saint-Vincent...right here in a flash you will be linked to the "Culture, History and the surrounding Area" section of our Commune's website.

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