Gambling in Monaco was first authorized by Prince Florestan I. He signed the law legalizing gambling two months before his death, in April 1856. However, it didn’t become official until December of that year with the opening of the first gambling house in the Palais de la Condamine. It therefore had all started more than a century before the official countdown of the gambling industry in Monaco.
This was for a reason, however, since this business was not vital to the Principality up until Prince Charles III came into power. On December 3, 1860, he established la Societe de Bains de Mer that owns the Opera, Casino and the Hotel de Paris to this day. But the gambling industry took time to take off, and it would be years before Monaco would be known for gambling. Railways needed to be built to improve the circulation between France and Italy, allowing business to rocket at an incredible rate, once the infrastructure was established, allowing more people to reach the Principality. On February 18, 1863, the Casino of Monaco was opened with much pomp. And this really made the gambling industry soar to incredible heights. The efforts of Francois Blanc and his wife Maria were finally repaid.
Francois Blanc was a native of Provence, and he and his twin brother Louis were born in the small town of Courtaison on 12 December 1806. Their father Claude Blanc, a tax officer, died before the brothers were born. The boys were growing up in a small, quiet town and dreaming of becoming rich and famous. When a circus came to town, they were particularly impressed by the gambling tricks that it was demonstrating. They decided to go off on a circus tour all over the south of France, taking up diverse work and studying all the tricks of the trade. They finished up in the gambling business in Marseilles. Becoming quite successful, they both realized that they had found a way to make their childhood dreams come true.
Eventually Francois and Louis saved up enough to expand their business. In 1833, they were able to open a small bank in Bordeaux and began to do some speculations with government pensions and real estate. Using their ingenious strategies (some of which were later outlawed), they multiplied their quite considerable fortunes. They were soon arrested, however, and brought to trial for fraud.
At that time, there were no special laws prohibiting any of their business strategies. They turned out to be the first creative fraudsters to have invented such speculation tricks. The Blanc brothers finished up paying a fine for bribing state officials and were released. This unpleasant experience made them leave Bordeaux and head to Paris. That’s when they came up with new gambling projects to circumvent the existing anti-gambling laws. The brothers opened a number of institutions before King Louis Philippe passed his new laws banning gambling and leaving them out of work.
The Blancs never gave up. They moved up to Homberg and started a very lucrative gambling business there. This was just a start of their big success in the landgrafting of Hesse-Homburg, near Frankfurt. At that time, Homburg was encumbered by substantial debt and the local monarch signed a very profitable contract with Francois and Louis Blanc to develop its tourist industry. Their success was phenomenal. Homburg quickly became the «hot spot» of Europe with its gambling houses, rich hotels, theaters, a spa, numerous gardens and cultural attractions. It became a favourite with the rich and famous from the continent. Francois Blanc was soon nicknamed «The Wizard of Homburg». The brothers introduced Homburg to the game of roulette. Dostoevsky himself was a regular visitor to their gambling houses for almost 10 years.
This is where Francois first met charming young Madeleine-Victoire Huguelin from Alsace. They never got married, but two children were born from their union, Camille Blanc in 1847 and Karl Blanc in 1848. But a number of misfortunes were awaiting Francois Blanc later on. His beloved prematurely died in 1852 and his brother Louis passed away that same year after a long illness.
Madeleine-Victoria Gugelin was not the only woman, however, who played an important role in Francois Blanc’s life. Marie Charlotte Hansel later came to help Francois look after his household after the death of his beloved. With time, Francois grew fond of Marie and her amazing lively character. Since Marie was yet so young, Francois offered her a deal — he would improve her family’s living conditions, give her a good education and when she came of age, they would marry. In 1854, when Mary turned 21, the couple wed in Paris. Two more children Edmond and Marie-Felix were born from that marriage.
With time, as Homburg got over its debts and set out on a constant path to prosperity, the government in Frankfurt turned against gambling, making Francois go bankrupt again. But as he never gave up, the businessman continued to devise new ways of accumulating wealth and prosperity.
Homburg could only attract visitors over the summer season. In winter, its elite clientele preferred the moderate climate of the Riviera, suggesting to Francois Blanc the idea that it could be an ideal place for accommodating tourists all year round. He also learnt that the Prince of Monaco had recently legalized gambling in the Principality having seen its great success with the rich clients in Homburg. Francois Blanc thus set off to Monaco, putting all his fortune into the acquisition of the SBM company, for a huge price of 2,290,000 francs. He also invested much capital into the country, sponsoring new roads and railways. Thanks to his talent and rich experience in Homburg, Francois made Monaco a new fashionable destination for tourism and gambling. The Prince of Monaco, Charles III, gave Blanc quite a lot of freedom in his business. He therefore invested even more capital into the country that provided multiple returns on his investment.
«The Wizard of Homburg» thus became «The Wizard of Monte-Carlo». With the arrival of Francois Blanc, the money problems for the princely government were long forgotten and became history. In the first years of SBM managed by Francois Blanc, more than 30,000 visitors came to see Monaco. Many of them were Homburg residents curious to discover the new «nest» now open in Monaco. Generous visitors were spending their money easily. In the first few years, Blanc’s income reached 640.000 francs. This was not enough, however, as he reinvested five times more on building more gambling establishments and developing business in the Principality.