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Playing cards prohibited?

Is it rude, or even illegal, to play cards in cafes in Italy? My wife eleven-year-old son loves games, and we travel with a pack of cards. In Venice today, we stopped for a drink in a little cafe. It was a small place with a few tables, but not particularly busy. After our drinks came, we pulled out a deck of cards, but the owner told us, a bit rudely, we couldn't play. Later, we stopped in another place where I asked first and was told no. Can anyone help me understand the problem here? Are cards considered inappropriate because of gambling? Would we have had the same reaction if we had pulled out my son's little chess set or backgammon board?

Posted by
8894 posts

oooy veeyyy! It's bad enough that Root Beer is illegal in Italy....playing cards also! By extension are cell phones, ipods, and netbook/laptops also illegal? All have solitaire games built into them:)

Posted by
251 posts

Yeah, every country has items that you can't bring in. Strangely enough (as I found out the first time I went to Italy), playing cards are one of those items. I've never inquired about the policy behind it (I guess, like you said, to discourage potential gambling), but with the policy, I'm sure any store of cafe owner wouldn't let you play b/c obviously it would reflect back to them. Again, I don't know the whole story surrounding it or if playing cards are completely illegal (with a fine or something if you're caught?), but I know that you definitely can't bring them or mail them into the country.

Posted by
9110 posts

Posting wild guesses and taking hip shots about table economics really doesn't make sense. Playing cards are illegal in Italy. Period.

Edit: A late post of something googled about an item manufactured for export does not change the law.

Posted by
2852 posts

Just curious, is it illegal to purchase playing cards or to bring them into the country? Can Italians play cards at home? What's the rationale--do they associate playing cards with illegal gambling?

Posted by
9110 posts

They may not be imported. They may not be purchased.

I will not hazard a guess about what happens in the privacy of a home.

Posted by
8173 posts

There are two different issues here.

1) Playing cards are not illegal in Italy. It is illegal to bring them into the country or send them to Italy. Why? Well, every pack of playing cards sold in Italy has to have a stamp on it prove that the tax has been paid. Playing cards are taxed in Italy.

2) Gambling is frowned upon in Italy outside of legal casinos. Most illegal gambling is run by the mob and no shop owner wants any customers, or the government, to think they may have ties.(Or to get a reputation as a place where gambling is permitted.) So, no card playing.

In general, though, card playing just isn't that popular there.

Posted by
2193 posts

So, it's an excise stamp similar to those on cigarettes, wine, liquor, etc.?

Posted by
811 posts

"2) Gambling is frowned upon in Italy outside of legal casinos. Most illegal gambling is run by the mob and no shop owner wants any customers, or the government, to think they may have ties.(Or to get a reputation as a place where gambling is permitted.) So, no card playing."

Bottom line here, Tom, is that your son looks insidious. First it's an innocent game of Go Fish and before you know it, he's betting the ranch on a Canasta game.

Good to know the Italians are one step ahead of those shifty 11 year olds.

Posted by
1829 posts

My OH has several packs of cards purchased in Italy as curiosities. You will find different types of cards in different parts of Italy. They are designed for the card games popular in that particular area.

Posted by
11333 posts

Its a very Catholic country,, so perhaps its an old law relating to the churchs attitude towards gambling( except bingo < LOL )

Posted by
2297 posts

Wow, very interesting discussion - I had no idea!

Traditions are just sooo different everywhere. I doubt it's a Catholic issue. I grew up in Germany in a very Catholic rural areal. It was the absolute norm for the men to go to church first thing in the morning every Sunday. And right afterwards, while the women went home to prapare the roast for lunch, there was the "Fruehschoppen" (early drink=beer) for the men at the Gaststaette right next to the church. And yes, a game of "Skat" or "Doppelkopf" is always part of this. You see many German bars with tables reserved as "Stammtisch" - that's usually where a group meets regularly to drink and play cards.

Posted by
306 posts

Maybe I am imagining things, but on Ricks Sorrento episode, doesn't he go to a mens club and play cards?

Posted by
1313 posts

Pure speculation on my part as I never even knew cards were "illegal" but I imagine that like liquor, there are rules that restrict/control use of cards, rather than outright banning it. I.E., might be allowed to play at the gentleman's club but not in a little cafe. Plus, Italians like to ignore the rules, but I suspect the cafe owners aren't willing to take the risk. After all, the tourists leave but he has to deal with any potential fall out.

Posted by
11333 posts

Beatrix.. I don;t know if we can discount the Catholic thing so easily, I mean we both know you can walk into any church in Germany and France and not worry about the dress code police,, Italy is different.

Posted by
30770 posts

Despite Rick's Sorrento TV episode, I suspect that the difference lies in the setting. Playing card games in a public place in full view is "frowned upon", while playing card games in a private club behind closed doors is acceptable.

Posted by
401 posts

Cards here are seens mostly as a game for old men, something they would do a their local hangout (all towns have a community center, a kind of club house, for elderly people. Lots of card games there.) Most likely the bar where you were didn't like the down-home association--imagine you are in some nice bar in downtown Manhattan, I don't think they would dig it if you got out your travel board game of Connect Four and started playing. As for gambling, yes, that is true, Italy has very strict laws about where you can gamble on card games, in fact its only permitted in casinos, of which there are a few in all of Italy. I don't know how strictly the law is enforced, down the street from me is a bar where everyone weekend its packed with Mercedes and BMWs outside, for the card games, I somehow doubt they are just playing with chips. A bigger concern is those computerized betting machines that some of you have surely seen in bars, those have very strict rules that if you win they cannot pay you in cash, but only in food or something else the bar sells.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for all the responses, both informed and speculative. We spoke to a cafe owner this morning who told us first that card playing is not allowed, because the cafes themselves have to pay a fee to allow it. He later came back and told us he'd talked to a friend, and the real rule is just that you can't gamble, either with real money or with chips. I'm guessing, however, that a cafe owner could get in trouble if an innocent-looking card game later turned out to involve some wagering.

Posted by
331 posts

I never knew this. My wife and I play Gin Rummy on train and plane trips and it usually turns a bit heated as we are both pretty competitive players

We had a crowd watching us play on a train from Rome to Venice once. No one seemed to look upset about it more bemused. Maybe they were waiting for the cops to show up :)

Posted by
63 posts

For what it's worth-

As a magician, I always have several decks of cards with me when we travel. In seven trips to Italy, I've never been questioned.

Especially having learned enough Italian to perform, I've pulled them out in restaurants fairly often in Rome, Florence and Venice.

I've never sensed any negative reaction, nor have any of my Italian teachers (all born and raised in Italy) cautioned me about playing cards.

Posted by
70 posts

No wonder we couldn't find playing cards to buy as a souvenir for friends. Ultimately, we did find in the Uffiz a deck with Botticelli art.