One would be wrong to think that some entrepreneurs came up with the idea of a gambling house in Monaco. In fact, the founders of the first Monegasque casino were writer Albert Aubert and businessman Napoleon Langlois. They convinced the Government that Monaco needed a gambling establishment for getting out of financial crisis. Just like that, Monaco’s first casino, located in La Condamine, opened its doors. Soon it was relocated in the Hotel de Russie on the Palace Square. However, Aubert and Langlois did not manage to transform their dreams into reality. The lack of good roads and railways made access to Monaco long and difficult, killing the enthusiasm of gamblers. So in 1857, the owners had to sell their casino.
Despite this failure, Prince Charles III, ruler of Monaco at that time, borrowed the model of the famous Bad-Homburg Casino which had been the gambling centre of the time. In 1863, the Prince of Monaco offered a job to the French businessman François Blanc, who took over the gambling business and created the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), which now owns and runs the most prestigious hotels and restaurants in Monaco.
Blanc, also known as the “magician of Homburg” for the success of his casino, became a “magician of Monte Carlo”. He started a huge construction site on a deserted hill called Les Spelugues. Here he built a hotel, known as Hotel de Paris. In 1868, Café Divan (the future Café de Paris) completed the architectural ensemble created by the French entrepreneur. Monte Carlo was on its way to reaching the title of a European gambling centre, attracting more and more tourists.
One year later, an estimated 170,000 visitors came to Monaco to see the impressive interior of the Casino. The Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII and Alexandre Dumas both spent their money at the gaming tables of the Monte Carlo Casino. In three years, Francois Blanc managed to create a luxurious district of Monaco named in Prince Charles’ honour—Monte Carlo. The success of the gambling house allowed the Princely family to stop collecting income tax from the residents of the Principality, making Charles III the greatest ruler of Monaco in the eyes of Monegasque people.
Since then, the Principality of Monaco has become a symbol of luxury, gambling and fabulous Balls. It became the main destination for movie stars, celebrities and nobility. Everybody wanted to be part of this never-ending feast called Monaco.
The design of the Monte Carlo Casino as we see it today was actually built in 1878 on the initiative of Marie Blanc, the widow of François Blanc. She invited Charles Garnier, the famed architect of the Paris Opera House, to complete the gambling complex with a concert hall and a new building for the Casino. The furious construction ran day and night was finished in less than 8 months, not even stopping at night. It wasn’t until 1910 that Monte Carlo Casino finally got its interior designed by Laurent Dutrou, Charles Garnier and Henri Schmit.
What’s inside Monte Carlo Casino?
As a Belle Epoque masterpiece, Monte Carlo Casino, has immense architectural value. With rooms like Salle Renaissance and Salle Europe, which are decorated with ornate crystal chandeliers; the iconic private rooms Touzet and Medecin, and the elegant Salle Blanche perfectly complement each other. Even when it comes to gambling, the casino respects its history. Vintage slot machines can be found standing next to the modern ones.
Epicureans can enjoy gourmet menus at Le Train Bleu restaurant. Its decor recreates the dining-room of a “wagon-lit” in the days of the Belle Epoque. Try Mediterranean specialties at Le Salon Rose, with its panoramic view on Cap Martin.
The extravagant halls of the Monte Carlo Casino have been witness to many record wins and dramatic losses. Some superstitious gamblers rub the knee of the bronze horse bearing Louis XIV in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris. This ritual brings good luck, they say. Well, everybody’s got their own special thing. For instance, after each win, Arthur Rothschild would bet on 17 or 0 every an hour. As for Cornelius Vanderbilt, the rich American insisted that his family was present at the gaming table. The Prince of Nepal, due to his religion, was allowed to play only 5 days a year.
Here are some more funny stories about Monaco’s gamblers. Do you know why the Anglican Church of Monaco was so popular? Superstitious gamblers playing roulette, bet the psalms they had previously heard in church. That is why the pastor of the church stopped singing psalms with numbers below 36.
Another interesting fact: you can visit the Monte Carlo Casino wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but military uniform is not allowed. It probably has to do with a Russian captain who threatened to shoot the casino with guns after losing the ship’s treasury in roulette.
The last and biggest win was in 2015, when an unknown Italian gambler took home 1,920,000 dollars.
What has changed over the years?
According to Bernard Lambert, SBM General manager, the casino staff now know all major players and supervise their games. In order to prevent the situation where the gambler loses all, the casino sets the credit limit before a game starts. “The way people play has changed. They used to stay in Monaco for a couple of weeks. Now they have private yachts and jets, and they are only here for a 2-night stay”, Bernard Lambert says. There are players banned from gambling due to their inappropriate behaviour, and some people ask not to let them play in the Monte Carlo Casino.
What hasn’t changed, surprisingly, is that Monegasque citizens are not allowed to play in any casino in Monaco. The special ordinance released 150 years ago is still in place.