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 A History of Monte Carlo


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A History of Casino

Monte Carlo 


A History of the Principality of Monaco

Monaco’s Gambling Concession

A History of Casino Monte Carlo


I) A History of the Principality of Monaco

The town of Monaco is situated on a rock, which rises 200 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a natural fortress looking down the beautiful bay. Picturesque flower gardens, tropical and subtropical trees; olive, orange and lemon groves decorated the place for centuries. The climate is one of the best in Europe due to the mild weather around the year and fresh healthy air.
In 1500 B.C. that area was a part of the Phoenician civilization that spread across the Mediterranean. Some historians speculate that Monaco name came from “Menouack”, which was the name of the Phoenician Sun God. Others argue for obvious etymological reasons that Monaco was derived from Latin Monachus (monk). The ancient Greeks called the bay Portus Heraklis – Port of Hercules.
Prior to the medieval times Monaco and the surrounding areas were in the possession of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Saracens. In Medieval Ages two great political parties of medieval Italy – the Guelphs and the Gibellines – were fighting over it for more than a century. Finally, in1297 the Guelphs under the command of Frances Grimaldi captured the land. Grimaldi became the first Prince of Monaco and the Royal House of Grimaldi was established to rule till present days.
The Principality was always very small in size. It was under constant threat from the bigger and more powerful neighbors. To protect itself it became a Spanish protectorate in 1529. Powerful Spain provided necessary peace and safety in exchange for taxation and military use of the territory. This political alliance lasted till 1641 when the reigning prince was Honore II. The prince went into a secret pact with French Cardinal Richelieu at Peronne in the September of that year. The Treaty of Peronne guaranteed Monaco its independence and laid the foundation for a traditional friendship with France.
Monaco, like the whole Europe, went through drastic changes caused by the first French Revolution (1789-1799). The population inspired by the examples of French “camarades” deposed the current Prince HonoreIII. The Principality was renamed into Fort Hercules and the vote to unite with French Republic was unanimous.
In 1791 Honore III was arrested in Paris but was released 9 months later with deteriorated health. Two years later in 1795 he died in his house in Paris. Many members of Monaco Royal family were imprisoned. The wife of HonoreIII’s second son met her death by guillotine. There was no bloodshed in the Principality itself. The Royal Palace was robbed and later converted into the hospital for Napoleonic troops.
After Napoleon’s exile to Elba the Royal House of Grimaldi was restored to its pre-revolutionary power and possessions. The Treaty of Paris on May 30, 1814 guaranteed Monaco the status of independent state and friendly protection from France.
The Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the Treaty of Vienna (1816) changed the political map of Europe. One of the provisions of that treaty made Monaco a protectorate of Sardinia. Sardinian government was always instigating an unrest and anti-Grimaldi sentiment among the Monaco’s population in an attempt to permanently annex the territory. Due to the loss of the benefits of the tax-free trade with France, economy of the Principality was in crisis. That helped Sardinia to destabilize Monaco. In 1848 two Monaco’s towns – Mentone and Rocquebrunne – declared themselves free towns. Later on France took part as an Italy’s ally in the victorious war against Austria. The Treaty of Turin (1860) put an end to Sardinian power over Monaco and the Principality once again became a protectorate of France. Towns Mentone and Rocquebrunne were united with France. The Principality was compensated by an indemnity of 160,000 pounds. The loss of these towns shrank Monaco’s territory to 8,000 square miles which made it the smallest after Vatican sovereign state in Europe.
Prince Honore V died in 1841. He was succeeded by his brother Florestan. Florestan loved poetry and acting in Parisian theatres. He had no desire and necessary abilities to be a successful ruler. After his death, his son Charles III inherited the throne. The transformation of Monaco into a world’s favorite gambling destination began in his reign.

II) Monaco’s Gambling Concession

In 1850s the reigning Monaco’s family was almost bankrupt. Poverty was a real threat to the population. The economical crisis was caused by the loss of two towns, which provided most of the Principality’s revenues with their lemon, orange and olive crops. Drastic measures had to be taken fast to find new sources of revenues.
At that time many small towns in Europe enjoyed the prosperity by transforming themselves into mineral springs resorts with gambling establishments. The best known resorts were German towns of Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden and Homburg. Prince Charles III was impressed by their successes and decided to turn Monaco into a “watering-place” and gambling resort.
In 1856 Charles III gave a concession to Napoleon Langlois and Albert Aubert to establish a sea-bathing facility for the treatment of various diseases and build a German style casino. The casino was opened in the part of Monaco called La Condamine. In the following years it was moved from one building to another and finally ended up in the area called “les Spelugues” (The Caves).

Prince Charles III

Francois Blanc

In the beginning the Monaco’s gambling enterprise was not successful. The main problem was the lack of customers caused by the difficulty of reaching Monaco from the rest of Europe. The only land route was long, steep and dangerous Corniche road and the trip was costly. It was possible to reach Monaco by sea, but only one small steamer was available. It did not operate regularly due to constant repairs, and every time the weather looked threatening the captain refused to accept passengers. The other problem was that Langlois and Aubert’s company was seriously undercapitalized. In addition, their managerial skills and organizational talent were not up to the task. In result, the casino was not showing any profit. The owners had no choice but to sell their business to Frossard of Libonne, who in turn passed it to Daval. Daval also had little success. Finally, in 1863 the twin brothers Francois and Louis Blanc acquired the ownership. They helped Monaco to become the world’s leading gambling resort.

III) The History of Casino Monte Carlo

The Blanc brothers were born on 12 December 1806 in the little French village of Courthezon in the family of a poor tax-collector. In their teenage years the brothers showed an intense interest for gambling and financial operations. They were not only good gamblers but also the lucky ones. By careful gambling and speculations in stocks, they increased a modest capital given them by their mother enough to open a “bank”. That “bank” was nothing but a firm specializing in stocks speculation.
They understood early in life that the only way to win in the stock market was to obtain exclusive information before anybody else could. With that purpose in mind, they were able to infiltrate a communication system owned by French government and bribe few employees. In the next two years they were enjoying steady profits from selling and buying government stocks. Eventually, their scheme was uncovered and the brothers were charged with corruption. Thanks to a good lawyer, the lack of precedent, the fact that the public was not harmed and Rothschilds and others were doing the same, they were acquitted.
Since their bankers name was compromised forever, the brothers decided to concentrate on gambling business. Due to the anti-gambling laws passed in 1839 it was impossible to do in Paris. To pursue their goal they moved to a small town of Homburg, which was the capital of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Homburg – one of the many tiny states the Germany of that period was divided into.
In 1840 the Blancs obtained a gambling concession from Homburg to build and operate casino. The casino opened in 1843 and was an immediate success. In the next few years, under the leadership of Francois Blanc, Homburg casino became the most popular gambling resort in Europe. Great Russian novelist Dostoyevsky wrote his “Gambler” on the basis of his gambling experiences with roulette in Homburg where he lost his royalties for future works.
Blanc was paying close attention to a gambling development in Monaco, which could become a possible rival for Homburg. When he heard that Monaco’s casino was going through a crisis, he arrived to Principality and made an offer of $1,700,000 francs to Prince Charles III to buy casino for 50 years. On March 31, 1863, the Prince approved the transaction. The next day Blanc registered in Paris a company “La Societe anonyme des Baines de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers a Monaco” with a capital of 8 million francs. This capital was divided into 32,000 shares. More than 18,000 shares were received by Blanc for his services.
Blanc’s experience as a successful casino operator for many years in Homburg made him the best man for the job of giving the Monaco’s casino the best chance for survival. Immediate major changes, improvements and innovations were undertaken under his guidance. The casino was lavishly decorated. The new hotels and villas were built. The work began to build a railway to connect Monaco with other coastal cities. The new service of bigger and better steamers was started between Nice, Genoa and Monaco. Blanc also insisted that the place where the casino was located – Les Spelugues – had to be renamed. That name has an unpleasant connotation in French, Italian and German, which means “a den of thieves”. After some thought Prince Charles agreed to commemorate his name and call the place “Monte Carlo” – “Mount Charles”.

Entrance to Casino Monte Carlo 1900

Interior of the Casino

The railway opened in 1868 and the flow of visitors increased dramatically. The profits from casino grew so much the Prince was able to abolish all taxation on Monaco’s citizens. In the next 30 years the progress of Monaco was little short of marvelous thanks to grandiose success of Casino Monte Carlo. The number of the hotels in the Principality grew from 2 to 48. The number of jewelers and the florists increased from 3 to 15 and from 1 to 15 respectively. In 1900 there were 85 wine merchants against 17 in 1870. The service and retail industries went through a prolonged boom. The Opera house and the famous Oceanographic Museum were established.

One of the famous Monte Carlo roulette wheels

Prince Albert of Monaco in his Laboratory 1912

At the end of the 19th century almost a million tourists were visiting annually Monaco and casino Monte Carlo, when in 1850s the number was less than 200. Monte Carlo became a favorite playground and gambling Mecca for players, aristocracy and members of the Royal families, self-made millionaires and great artists. Learn more about the history of gambling, including the emergence of online casinos, by visiting

Copyright 2006 Progress Publishing Co.
Selected References:

Carl Sifakis  The Encyclopedia of Gambling  Xan Felding  The Money Spinner
David G. Schwartz  Roll the Bones/The History of Gambling  Alice Fleming  Something for Nothing/A History of Gambling
Gerda Reith   The Age of Chance  George W. Herald/Edward D. Radin  Monte Carlo's Opulent Century