There are many stories about the casino during this period. An Italian countess arrived with a gold coin that had been blessed by the Pope. At first, it brought her luck and she won a fortune. However, she continued to gamble and soon lost it all. She then retired to a convent.
For religious reasons, the Prince of Nepal was only allowed to gamble for five days a year. To accommodate him, the Grand Casino set by private rooms for the Prince to gamble in during those five day periods. When the five days ended, the Prince would pay his debts and disappear from the casino until the next year.
A popular song of the 1890s was “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.” At the Grand Casino, the bank is broken when all of the reserves at a given table are paid out. The table is then covered with a mourning cloth until new funds arrive.
Englishman Charles Deville Wells came to Monte Carlo in 1891 with 4,000 pounds he had obtained by defrauding investors in a phoney invention. Wells broke the bank, winning one million gold francs. He returned later and won another 3 million francs. The casino hired private detectives but they were unable to discover Wells' system. Wells attributed his winnings to luck but considering the fact that later he was twice convicted of fraud, his protestation of innocence while gambling is suspect. In any event, his exploits are said to have inspired the popular song.
More recently, the casino has been a location in a number of films including two of the James Bond films. Sean Connery gambled to save the world from domination by an arch villein in “Never Say Never Again” and Pierce Brosnan romanced a Bond girl there in “Goldeneye.” The Grand Casino also matches Ian Fleming's descriptions of the casino is the novel Casino Royale.
Today, the Grand Casino is owned by the Societe des bains de mer de Monaco. The government of Monaco and the Grimaldi family own the controlling interest in the company.
With such a history and reputation, the Grand Casino may seem an intimidating place to visit unless you are a maharaja or a super spy. If you are going there to gamble, you must adhere to the dress code and you must bring your passport (only foreigners are allowed to gamble at the casino). There is a 10 Euro entrance fee (20 Euros if you are going to one of the private rooms). However, if you just want to see the casino, come before it opens for gambling and for a nominal fee, you can wander the rooms apparently in any attire you like judging from the visitors who were there when I toured the Grand Casino.
Just beyond the entrance is a long rectangular room with colonnades rising out of a marble floor. This is the atrium where people can meet before going into the gaming rooms. It is stately and impressive.
The next two gaming rooms are dominated by slot machines. I do not recall James Bond playing the slots but the casino has had such machines since 1931. Indeed, the casino reportedly has the largest collection of slot machines in Europe although not all that many were visible during my visit.
Above: The Opera House entrance is used by the Prince.
Continuing on, you come to a series of gaming rooms, which are more like what you would expect to find in the Grand Casino. These are large rooms with high ceilings. They were added on to the casino at different times and are the work of different architects but they are unified by their adherence to Belle Epoque style. Overhead there are great chandeliers and on the walls various types of sumptuous decoration. No wonder kings and 19th century millionaires felt at home here.
Off of one of the gaming rooms is a small restaurant. Called Le Train Bleu, it is named after the railroad train that used to bring the rich and famous to Monaco from the north. The layout and décor of the room is reminiscent of a train like the Orient Express.
Several of the large gaming rooms have long bars. These recall Edouard Manet's masterpiece “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere,” presenting the same 19th century glamor.
Of course, with all the gaming tables empty and the roulette wheels still, there is not the same level of excitement as when the casino is open to play. However, at the Grand Casino, it is easy to imagine the crowds of impeccable gentlemen and finely dressed ladies placing their bets. And because of the people involved in its history, this casino more so than other casinos, seems to breathe drama and romance.
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Cruise destination - Monaco - Exploring the Monte Carlo Casino - page two