Modern Deauville (like modern Monaco ) was really created by its casino-which is an extremely large, lavish building, containing a cinema, a theatre, a restaurant seating more than 800 people, and an abundance of roulette, baccarat, and chemin-de-fer tables.  The casino dominates the town: It controls the rececourse, subsidizes (among other things) regattas, tennis matches, pigeon shooting, and an air service.

The casino’s size can be gauged, for example, by the fact that in one room alone there are 40 chemin-de-fer table.  (One of these has a minimum stake of the equivalent of $ 250.)  Incidentally, th4e French government claims 65 per cent of the casino’s gross takings, and the local principality takes 10 per cent.

Deauville’s casino was founded in 1912 by Eugene Cornuché.  Credit for its success, however, must be shared by three very different but very remarkable men: the French novelist Alexandre Dumas who lived and wrote at Deauville during the 1840s (he finished The Count of Monte Cristo there), and helped to make the resort fashionable; François André,  a cooper’s son who became Cornuché’s partner; and Nico Zographos, a member of the legendary Greek Syndicate whose presence at Deauville attracted many of the world’s top gamblers.  (André and Zographos will be discussed in Chapter 13.)  Incidentally, one of these distinguished visiting gamblers is supposed to have created a custom at Deauville.  This was the Polish pianist Paderewski who sat down one night and played Chopin’s Funeral March after losing heavily at roulette.  Evidently this appealed to the management’s imagination, and continuous music has been the rule ever since.
Cannes was a small seaside village before 1834 – when a British minister of state, Lord Brougham, was held up there by an outbreak of cholera.  He found the place enchanting, built a villa, and suggested to Napoleon III that Cannes would be an ideal place to build a harbor (an enterprise that Napoleon undertook).  Once Lord Brougham’s villa was ready, many of his friends began to visit him there.  Soon it became fashionable to spend the winter in Cannes.

Slowly the town began to expand.  In 1900 Grand Duke Michael of Russia financed the building of a large hotel (the Carlton) and two casinos (the Municipal and the Palm Beach).  In addition, he built himself an enormous house (which has since been turned into an apartment block), established a Russian Church, and planned a golf course.  Today Cannes is particularly popular as a holiday resort.  But its casino play poker remains a very important one: When the Greek Syndicate took over the control of Cannes casino, they ensured its pre-eminent position-alongside their creations at Le Touquet and Deauville.

The French casinos are among the most fashionable and well known in Europe, but their prominence is rivaled by similar gambling centers in other countries.  Portugal, for example, has a number of flourishing casinos (there is a particularly fine one at Estoril), as has Italy (notably at San Remo, Venice, and Rome); and there is an exceptional casino open all the year at Salzburg in Austria.  And, of course, Germany has long been the home of major gambling centers; it was at Homburg that François Blanc made his first fortune.

Today, Baden-Baden has become the most fashionable casino in Germany, for Homburg (as will be seen in a moment ) ceased to exist as an important gambling center at midnight on December 31, 1872.  Baden-Baden’s casino is also the oldest in Germany (it has been in existence for more than 200 years), though the present buildings were designed only 100 years ago at the instigation of the French holder of the gambling concession, Edouard Bénazet.  Of course, more gaming rooms, bars, and so on have been added in recent years.

Like many of european casino gambling centers, Baden-Baden was initially famous as a health resort.  (Its waters were as popular with the Romans 2000 years ago as they are with visitors today.)  But the casino was really responsible for making the town fashionable and for attracting such diverse personalities as Kaiser William I, Bismarck, Dostoevski, Alfred de Musset, Berlioz, and Brahms.  Today Baden-Baden is a necessary stop for Europe’s peripatetic casino gamblers – especially during the festivities of the International Racing Week.

Homburg’s story (as I intimated earlier) isles happy.  Before 1872, Homburg was pre-eminent among Germar resorts: Louis and François Blanc had succeed in transforming it from an obscure and dirty village into a splendid town with a Kursaal (casino) that had inlaid floors, mirrored walls and a fine bas-relief ceiling.

 

A Baden-Baden croupier checks the silver chips.  Below, a chemin-de-fer table at Brighton casino.  England, showing the positions of players and employees.

Contemporary accounts suggest that Homburg was the most serene of all 19th century European gambling centers.  One Englishman who visited the Kursaal in 1868 wrote: “He who goes to Homburg expecting to see some melodramatic manifestations of rage, disappointment, and despair in the losing players reckons without his host.  Winners or losers seldom speak above a whisper; and the only sounds to be heard above the suppressed buzz of conversation, the muffled jingle of the money, the sweep of the croupiers’ rakes, and the ticking of the very ornate French clocks, are the impassively metallic voices of the banker.  People are too genteel at Homburg to scream, to yell, or fall into fainting fits.”

But, respectable, or not, Homburg didn’t escape the Prussian government’s edict that all gaming houses should be suppressed on January 1, 1873.  Ems and Wissbaden (the two german french gambling centers most nearly approaching Homburg in fame and style) closed in October 1872; Homburg closed in December.  Tourists from all over Europe came to witness the town’s last days.  Dostoevski, who was one of the tourists, wrote: “The façade was still bright, and the town affected a lighthearted appearance which revealed none of the sadness of the approaching end.  Neither the company nor the populace appeared ready to admit defeat.  One would have supposed that they knew full well they could deal with the government of Bismarck as easily as they had with that of the Landgrave.  But it was not possible- it could never be possible.  Homburg must sink again into its former torpor.”
An excessively cruel winter did nothing to deter the hordes of visitors who flowed into the town.  Theatre and concert halls were packed and players in the casino were betting on an unparalleled scale.  On the last night (December 31, 1872) crowds lined the gaming rooms from wall to wall.  At 11.55 p.m. the croupier on the big roulette table announced dramatically “Messieurs, à la dernière.”  The table was immediately covered with chips, gold, and bank notes for the last turn.

Inside Crockford’s Gaming Club, London.  Far left, the grand spiral staircase that leads to the roulette, chemin-de-fer, bridge, and holdem poker game room son the first and second floors.  Left, croupiers take up positions for the start of an evening’s roulette session.  (play starts 5 p.m.)

The croupier spun the wheel and then, as it slowed to a standstill, called out “Vingt, noir, pair, et passé.” There was no more play.

            Blanc, of course, was present.  He found the occasion poignant, and refused to hand the keys of the Kursaal over to the authorities until the superintendent of police had been sent for.  But by midnight he had ceded his creation – except for the theatre, the waxworks, the gasworks, the restaurant, and the railway.  He sold these a few days later, and added million to his fortune.