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Fun in Monte Carlo

The Casinos of the Principality by the Sea Combine Glitz with Old-World Money and Charm
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

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"All I can say is that everyone can play at the casino," says Palmaro. "You can bet from 10 francs (about $1.80) to 10,000 francs (about $1,800). The biggest bets tend to be in roulette. The limits are 6,000 francs in public rooms and 10,000 francs in private ones. If you want to make large bets, it's preferable to go into a private room, although some of our big players like to stay in the public ones."

Palmaro estimates that about 60,000 players come to the casino each year, with an additional 200,000 or so visiting the others. The Monte Carlo Sporting Club also offers gambling during the summer. Tourists are the No. 1 group of players; people attending conventions are the second largest. And, of course, high-stakes players are also a factor.

Most of the casinos' customers either stay at the Hotel de Paris or Hotel Hermitage, if they don't have their own nearby accommodation. The top players stay as the casinos' guests. The Hotel de Paris is the better of the two hotels. Built in 1864, it is as lavish as it is congenial. With 66 luxurious rooms, its decor reflects much of the same gilded opulence of the casino next door. Service is impeccable.

The three-star restaurant at the Hotel de Paris alone is worth the expense of booking a room. The Louis XV restaurant with superchef Alain Ducasse and his team of cooks is one of the world's greatest dining experiences. It is not to be missed.

Rooms, however, are at a premium in July and August as well as during the Monte Carlo Volvo Open in April and the Grand Prix in May. SBM also organizes various events at the casinos, including tournaments for black jack, poker, roulette and even slot machines. So it's worth checking in advance about room availability.

The majority of the casinos' clients come for an evening out in Monte Carlo, which usually includes dinner, a show and gambling. Italians account for 80 percent of the gamblers in Monte Carlo, because it is less than 10 miles from the borders of Italy and France. The French are the second-largest group, with the rest originating from other European countries. "We have a very international crowd," he adds, "but very few Americans. They are good clients for Monte Carlo, but not really for gambling."

One way that Palmaro hopes to make his casinos more attractive to Americans is through changes made at the Café de Paris. About six years ago, SBM decided to expand the casino there. "We realized that we could create a kind of American casino in this space by transforming it into something similar to what you might find in Las Vegas," he says. "This allowed us to add not only gaming tables but different slot machines and video games."

There are nearly 14,000 square feet of gaming rooms packed with 400 machines, 10 to 12 blackjack tables, four to six roulette tables and a couple of crap tables. Walking through the loud, crowded area is reminiscent of Las Vegas, particularly those establishments attracting more down-at-the-heel customers. It seems more like a place to play slot machines, video black jack or electronic horses than serious card games, roulette or craps.

The Sun Casino is the best compromise between the eleganceof the casino and the slightly tacky ambience of the Café de Paris. Brighter and much more Atlantic City in style, the Sun Casino is located in the Loews Hotel, which, until recently, operated the entire casino there under a joint agreement with SBM. Gambling at Loews is less formal than at the casino even though it is quite luxurious. Most people play such American table games as black jack, punto banco, and craps; slot machines and electronic games are less popular.

Overall, table games still dominate the gambling scene in Monte Carlo despite the recent push in slot and electronic machines. "It's very simple," says Palmaro. "Europeans are more attracted to the classic European games such as roulette, 30 & 40, chemin de fer, baccarat. It's important to compare our turnover to Las Vegas. Seventy percent of our revenues come from table games, with the rest from machines, which in the States is quite the opposite."

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