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Saturday, 26 January 2013

Last of the big gamblers

Tuesday, January 26th., Menton.

The first visit to Monte Carlo must be a sort of an event in the life of anyone with imagination. I went there yesterday afternoon from Menton by tram. The ride is very diversified, and here and there fine views are obtained.

Monte Carlo (literally "Mount Charles") is situated on a prominent escarpment at the base of the Maritime Alps along the French Riviera. The eastern part of the quarter includes the community of Larvotto with Monaco's only public beach. At its eastern border one crosses into the French town of Beausoleil (sometimes referred to as Monte-Carlo-SupĂ©rieur), and just 5 miles (8 km) further east is the western border of Italy. Monaco, the smallest state in Europe, having an area of eight square miles, is an Italian principality in southeast France in the department of Alpes Maritimes, on the shore of the Mediterranean. The state has a population of about 15,000 represented almost wholly by the three towns of Condamine (6218) Monaco (3292) and Monte Carlo (3794). The government is very old, dating from 968 A.D. Monte Carlo is notorious as the greatest gambling resort in the world. The revenues of the state and of the ruling prince are derived from the farming out of the gambling to a joint stock company which is given a monopoly of the business until 1947. For this privilege the company paid the prince in 1899, $2,000,000 and will pay in 1913 $3,000,000 more. In addition to this an annual payment is made of $350,000 which will increase to $500,000 in 1937.

The Casino, 1900

On the whole I was disappointed by the exterior aspects of the town. It lacks spaciousness, and since it is in the absolute control of one autocratic authority, spaciousness is what it ought not to have lacked. Some of the villas, however, with their white paint and general air of being toys, are excessivement chic. The casino is all right in its florid, heavy way - but what a chance for an architect, on that site over the sea! The whole town had an air of being Parisian, but not quite Parisian enough.

Inside the gaming saloons (4 o'clock) I found a large crowd and many tables in full work. The crowd not so distinguished in appearance as I had (foolishly) expected. I saw few signs at the tables of  suppressed or expressed excitement, though quite a large proportion of the people seemed to be gambling seriously. I had no intention of betting, but after I had watched several tables and grasped the details of roulette (30 and 40 I didn't attempt to grasp) I remained at one table, as if hypnotised; without knowing it I began to finger a 5-franc piece in my pocket, and then I became aware that I was going to bet. I knew I should bet some seconds before I formally decided to. I staked a 5-franc piece on an even chance and won. Like a provincial up from the country, who has heard tales of metropolitan rascality, I stood close to a croupier and kept a careful eye on my coin, and picked up the winnings without an instant's delay. I kept on playing, carefully, and always on even chances, for some time, and stopped when I had made a little money and went and had some tea. I didn't play again.

From a contemporary postcard - The Casino, the beautiful palace where the gaming tables are, has a commanding position on a headland overlooking the sea, and surrounded by a superb park, with palms and exotic trees and fountains. The Casino has a theatre and reading room, and many beautiful halls with chairs and tables for the players. The game is running every day from noon till midnight. The players are men, women and children, whose losings furnish the dividends to the company. The inevitable losses of fortune drive many to despair, and tragedy broods over the place, the suicides averaging over one a week.

The idea of gambling quite absorbed all my thoughts; obsessed me; and I had schemes - such that it would be experientially worthwhile to go there with say 5000 francs, and deliberately become a regular system-using gambler for a time. There is no doubt that the human spectacle of the gaming saloons is tremendous; unequalled; the interest of it could not easily fail for an observer. To a stranger, of course, one of the most curious things is the sight of large sums of money in notes and gold being flung about the tables. I am told that the Casino employs 1,800 people altogether. The croupiers work 6 hours a day each, so I estimate there must be about 200 croupiers altogether.

I just missed a tram in coming home and had half an hour to wait; all that time I thought of gaming, gaming. I look forward to going again on Friday.

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