Turning now to a few famous names that were prominent in the 20th century’s gambling world:
André Citroen, the French automobile manufacturer, seemed to use gambling as a spectacular form of publicity stunt.  He was an unquestionably brilliant designer and a staunch believer in the future of the automobile even in the early days of this century (when only a few farsighted people saw anything but comedy in the internal combustion engine).  Yet it might be said that his fame and reputation rested as much on his flair for publicity as on anything else.

His career was crowded with elaborate and dramatic coups  of publicity: Once he managed to persuade the authorities to let him light up the Eiffel Tower with his name; he often got kings, actors, famous bands, and even clergy to attend the previews of his motor shows; he gained world-wide attention by sending Citroen cars on expeditions across the Sahara; and one night in 1926 he went on playing baccarat for the sole purpose of being able to have it published that he had achieved one of the biggest single-session losses in the history of the game.  The loss was 13,000,000 francs (the equivalent then of about $ 500,000); and as a consequence it became necessary for Citroen to call in the banks to take over his firm.  But a man with his energy and resilience couldn’t stay down for long.  He immediately raised the output of his factory, planned a new sales campaign that included America, and was quickly back on his feet again financially.


The French motor car tycoon Andre Citroen, a prodigious gambler (and loser) and habitue of the Greek Syndicate’s baccarat table at Deauville.  Left ,the French racing driver Francois Secot is greeted in Paris (in 1934) after his triumphant 3125-mile drive through France and Belgium in a Citroen car.  He covered the distance in a record 77 hours.

Throughout his life Citroen dearly loved to mix with the rich and famous – or perhaps I should say with other rich and famous.  It was for this reason that he gambled, for the casino poker game at Deauville was always packed with the sort of people that he delighted to run shoulders with.  “I am not the least interested in the game,” he once said, “nor in whether I win or lose.  I am only interested in whether or not the amount is large enough to be noticed.”  Everything he did was to attract attention.  He even managed to get Deauville to change the rule that only men should be allowed in the private baccarat room.  He did this by arranging for his wife to gate-crash the saloon and to plead with Nico Zographos, the banker in the game, to stop her husband from going on after the ruinous losses he had suffered that evening.

In Citroen’s heyday, his gambling activities made headline news.  He had only to enter a casino with Paderewski or the Aga Khan to have the length of his baccarat session and the amount of his winnings or losses written about in every news paper and glossy magazine in Europe who could raise the bank to any limit he cared to set (it wasn’t true, but it was good publicity); and his fabulous successes at the tables (which were many) were associated, by way of clever gossip writing, with the success of his products.  He was often presented as a man who translated his gambling acumen into terms of motoring for the millions.

Perhaps because he had had so much publicity when he was alive, Citroen got little when he died in 1935.  his business had crashed and been taken over by Michelin.  One obituary gave him less than one column inch of space and attributed his business defeat to “gambling on the success of that most foolish of all inventions, the front-wheel drive.” (He didn’t invent the front-wheel drive, but he tried to popularize it in his 1934 models.) It was the only gamble that ever brought him bad publicity.

The wealthy British businessman and store owner Gordon Selfridge gambled widely and apparently enjoyed it greatly, though (like Citroen) he seems to have gambled because it was the socially correct thing for rich men to do, rather than because he was addicted to holdem game gambling.  But Selfridges’s protégées, who were known everywhere as the Dolly Sisters, were gamblers to the heart mostly on Selfridges’s money.  The sisters (whose real names were Janzieska and Roszieska Deutsch) were Hungarian vaudeville and cabaret artists who had been spotted by the American impresario Flow Ziegfeld in 1911 and had been given a chance in his Follies of that year.  Later they came to London and were seen in cabaret by Selfridge, who invited them to visit him at his villa at Deauville.


The British department-store owner and gambler Gordon Selfridge, with the Dolly Sisters (in white) and his daughter in 1926.

They paid their visit, which lasted nearly a quarter of a century, and during that time they gambled away the equivalent of nearly $ 8,000,000.  They often won as well, of course, and put their winnings into jewelry, villas, and a boutique in the Champs Elysées but most of these had to be sold at one time or another when they were suffering a losing streak.

Of the Dolly sisters, Selfridges’s particular devotion went to Jenny but when he bought sizeable interests in the casinos at Le Touquet and Deauville he allowed both of them unlimited credit.  And not only that: When they had lost the equivalent of $ 10,000 or $ 15,000 at a single sitting of baccarat (they often lost that much in the first few minutes play) he would send them diamonds “to compensate for your losses, my darlings.”

Eventually, Selfridge’s personal losses at the casinos, plus the losses of the Dolly Sisters (and of another of his girl friends, the actress Gaby Deslys) ruined him and his business.  At the age of 83 he went bankrupt, though he claimed that his failure was due to the slump of 1930.  He was a considerable showman who knew how to apply publicity methods to his business and make them work but in his personal relationships he was on less safe ground.

            Jenny also went bankrupt after Selfridge reached the financial stage when he could no longer pay her gambling debts.  Her biggest win had been the equivalent of nearly $ 400,000 in a single session of baccarat but her biggest loss was physical rather than financial.  She was in a car accident that left her disfigured; and later she was the victim of an attack by a violent burglar who blinded her with pepper when she discovered him robbing her Chicago home.  She was brought to such a state of despair by all these tragedies that she killed herself.