Winners &Losers

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One Dark Night>
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1984 Aspinal
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Gordon Moody
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      Action Man

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Blanc Dies
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Nevada & New Jersey

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The Game of Life
Real Until


Lesson 2

Under the dynamic management of the Blanc's, Monte Carlo could hardly fail to prosper.  It became in those golden days of the 1880s and 90s the pinnacle of society  at play.  Thus the author of Ten Days at Monte Carlo arriving at Cairo’s for luncheon: ‘At a table in the window, the Grand Duke Michael and Countess Torby were entertaining the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and the Crown Prince and Princess of Roumania.  At the next table the Lord Chief Justice and Lady Russell … Sloan, the little American jockey who was a most comical sight sitting next to the portly form of ‘Gaiety George’.  A well known Lombard Street banker had a cheery party of ladies … The legal and political element was very strongly represented… the Speaker of the House of Commons… the popular Conservative whip … the Stage [represented] by Miss Miriam Clements, ‘La Bell Juniori’, and Fanny Ward… Music by Tosti and Sir Arthur Sullivan… London Society was also well to the fore, and among the best known we made out …Lord and Lady Wolverton, Lord and  Lady ‘ Agly’ Lennox, the Duke and Duchess of Leeds.  …If you add to all these a sprinkling of superbly dressed demi-mondaines, some foreign notabilities, a few barristers, city men, and stockbrokers, you will have a very fair idea of Ciro’s restaurant during the monte Carlo season.’

           The meticulous V.B., who had a keen eye for value, also gives the menu on that occasion : Hors d’oeuvres varles, oeufs poches Grand Duc, Mostele a l’Anglaise, Volaille en Casserole a la Fermiere, Patisserie, Fromage, café, chateau Carnbonnieux 1891, Fine Champagne, 1846, total bill for four people 62 francs.  ‘After a cigar, ’ V.B. adds, we paid a visit to Smith’s Bank next door, drew out our capital of £ 900, and then strolled across to the concert at the online poker .’  Ah, those heady days!

The photographs of all these long vanished notabilities, with their double-breasted suits, high collars and cravats, with their canes or yachting caps, their confident, roguish air, accompanied by their curvaceous ladies, daughters of the game, in their pearls and their ankle-length silk dresses, gives one a pang for a world forever gone.

            As I walk along the Bois de Boulogne
            With an independent air
            You can hear the girls declare
            He must be millionaire!
            You can hear them sigh and wish to die,
            You can see them wink the hopeful eye
            At the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo!

            The name of the Prince of Wales was kept out of the English newspapers (though not in the Tran by Croft affair, the notorious scandal over the Prince was present ) he traveled under the name of Captain White (a play on the name monsieur Blanc) to his is attributed the pretty saying that sometimes noir wins, sometimes rouge wins, but Blanc never loses.  Edward’s passion was baccarat.  Not so his mother, Queen Victoria: She disdainfully sent back to the infernal casino a welcoming bouquet of flowers, and on a brief visit to the Rock delivered a regal snub to its ruler by ostentatiously declining to call on him.
            François Blanc died in 1877, leaving a fortune of £ 3,900,000.  Marie was still only 43.  She continued the business, constructing a grand theatre which proved such a huge success Sarah Bernhardt gave a recitation at the opening gala that she then had to enlarge the casino,   Blanc’ son (by his first marriage ) Camille took over as managing director on Marie’s early demise a few years later.  He rapidly proved as astute as his father, both in countering the anti-gambling lobbies which were continually springing up across the continent and in creating new forms of publicity to keep the name of Monte Carlo in the public eye.  He commissioned new operas for the theatre and attracted musicians and actors of international renown.  He knew that such artistes were not really expensive, however high their fees, because so many of them loved to gamble.
  Sarah Bernhardt was particularly unlucky at the tables, as was Chaliapin later on.  (‘I did it my way’, as another entertainer of casino audiences sang a century later.)
            Monte Carlo continued to thrive under Camille Blanc’s direction.  His success, like that of his father before him, was based on attracting the public at large, and dazzling people with shows, with luxury, with the ambience of aristocracy at play poker. He introduced tennis tournaments, concour d’ élégance of motor cards, fashion parades.  In those days, when the beau monde traveled to Monte carlo from far and wide, it was not for a couple of nights on the town people would stay for a month at least, often several weeks, to enjoy the season, which was of course in the winter the Côte d’Azur did not achieve its apogee as a summer resort until the English, in their eccentric way, took to swimming and sunbathing in the 1920s.  ‘The casino was making a steady annual profit of a million pounds a year, ’ Charles Graves sums up in The Big Gamble, say around £ 20m in today’s values.  And so it went on, with occasional interruptions for minor wars and political mishaps, into the next century.

            Camille  Blanc also encouraged the publication of every sort of handbook on how to win at gambling.  Roulette is the ideal game for systemiers or systems followers.  The papers were full of arguments about one method over another, and how to win a fortune.  One of the most spectacular debates was launched by Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun of that name; he sought to show that even after a long run of red or black, the chances of either colour turning up on the next spin were exactly the same.  This drew vehement protests from the supporters of doubling up and other theories of poker winning.  Well, the laws of probability were not so well understood in those days and even today you can go to any casino in the world and see players at the roulette table writing down the numbers, frowning in concentration over their calculations.  I’ve done it myself and I expect you have too.
            Yet (as we all know) there is no method of beating the odds against you in roulette, either by analyzing the previous spins or by ingenious staking methods.  There is something about roulette the glitter of the wheel and the magic of the spin, which seems to have hypnotized people, over the years, into believing they could find a way of mastering it.  (I was solemnly assured only the other day by a television conjuror, an artist with cards, a man who had previously worked in casinos, that he knew a way of winning at roulette.  How?  Ah well, it was complicated, it required study, people whom he had explained it to had lacked the patience to make it work.) The problem has defeated generations of gamblers ever since Pascal’s treatise on the rolling of wheels.  Histoire de la Roulette, back in 1657, though the modern poker game as we know it came in a century later.
            Camille had a long successful run, nearly 50 years, continuing the tradition set by his father.  But the First World War had seriously depleted the company’s reserves.  It was a struggle to get the casino going again.  Prince Louis, himself short of money, would not abide any reduction in the annual income paid him by the SBM.  He turned to another sources of funds, Sir Basil Zahar off, the international financier and arms dealer.  While Camille Blanc was out of town, the wily Zaharoff  placed a million pounds at the Prince’s disposal; and with his connivance, seized control of the company.
            Zaharoff’s first step was to oust the former chairman and move in his own nominees.  He also put a stop to many of the pensions the company was paying its former staff.  The Bright Young Things of the ‘twenties, who had come of age after the war, were in a mood for fun and celebration.  The crowds came back, and the casino rapidly picked up, confirming its former reputation as queen of the Cote d’Azur.  It was not long before Zaharoff sold his interest in the casino to a French banking consortium, realizing a million and a half pounds profit on the deal, meanwhile retaining the sumptuous Hotel de Paris for himself.

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