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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of Casino Lisboa in Lisbon

What is Casino Lisboa?

Casino Lisboa, a prominent establishment in Lisbon, serves as both a sizeable casino and a cultural hub. Recognizable by its striking glass façade, the structure stands as an architectural landmark in the city's Park of the Nations district.

Casino Lisboa

Husond, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Casino Lisboa History

Casino Lisboa, which opened its doors in 2006, stands tall and shimmering in a contemporary region of the Portuguese capital, beside the iconic Tagus River. The building it resides in was once the Pavilion of the Future, a symbol of modernity and progress, initially constructed for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition. This grand event commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese reaching India. The pavilion itself, now a testament to the country's past and future, was designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, one of Portugal’s most significant Modernist architects.

The construction of this avant-garde building, distinct for its originality and aesthetic appeal, demanded 3,000 tons of steel, 1,700 cubic metres of concrete, 5,400 square metres of glass for the façades, and 170 kilometres of electrical cables. The result? An architectural marvel adorned with glass walls to enhance the airy, luminous spaces across the building’s various levels. But inside, it's not just a place to gamble. It's a cultural hub where patrons can savour excellent cuisine and enjoy a broad spectrum of shows that take place all year round.

However, the establishment of Casino Lisboa was not without controversy. It was green-lighted around 2001-2002 by Pedro Santana Lopes, the then Lisbon Mayor. Originally, the casino was conceived as a means to fund the refurbishment of Parque Mayer, Lisbon's once vibrant but now dilapidated theater district. Its location inside a major urban center, rather than a tourist hotspot, sparked a series of negative reactions as concerns over potential gambling problems rose. Critics argued that the urban location would increase accessibility to games of chance for the younger population, thereby promoting gambling addiction.

The planned location of the casino within the city changed publicly several times following the Mayor's "definitive" announcements. The proposed sites included Parque Mayer, Cais do Sodré, Jardim do Tobacco, and Feira Popular, before eventually settling on Parque das Nações.

Gambling in Portugal is subject to a concession by the State, dividing the country into gaming zones, each having its own concessionary with usually a single casino. The Lisbon Casino falls within the Estoril gaming zone. Despite protests from other gaming concessionaires about creating a new gaming zone for the new casino, Estoril-Sol and the Portuguese Government countered by stating that nothing in the law prevents each zone from having more than one casino.

The casino, designed by architect Fernando Jorge Correia, was established in the former Pavilion of the Future, a primary attraction of the '98 World Expo. During the transformation, the original architects of the Pavilion filed an injunction to halt construction work citing copyright violation. Despite a superior court overruling the claim, the construction work was temporarily halted from January to April 2005.

The casino was constructed for a whopping 108.9 million euro, including the 15-year concession fee of 30 million euro. During its initial months, the casino management reported that business was flourishing better than planned, with actual visitor numbers surpassing the targeted number. The casino’s impact was also evident in boosting sales of nearby commerce, including the huge Centro Vasco da Gama shopping mall.

Nevertheless, the opening of Casino Lisboa had implications for Estoril Casino, Europe's largest, situated only 35 km away. Workers at Estoril Casino went on strike in January 2005, fearing the new casino would affect their job security. The company had projected a 20% decline in the revenue of the old casino, which materialized as a smaller than expected 15% drop after five months.

Despite its rocky start, Casino Lisboa now stands as a significant landmark, a testament to the city's rich history and a symbol of its vibrant, thriving present. Its architecture, location, and influence continue to shape Lisbon's urban landscape and cultural identity.

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