Of all the great holdem poker game gambling centers in Europe, Carlo is without doubt the most famous-though its casino has been operating for only just over 100 years.  Considering the size of the principality of Monaco in which Monte Carlo is situated (it covers a total area of 368 acres on the Côte d’Azur of the South of France), it is remarkable that it should have risen to fame so quickly.  That it has is due to efforts of one man, François Blanc.

Monaco’s history, prior to its fame as a gambling center, was a stormy one.  Its geographical position made it a natural base from which successive invaders, with their eyes on Western Europe, could conveniently launch their fleets and armies.  These invaders included the Phoenicians, the Greeks (Who called Monaco “Hercules Monoecus” because it was supposed to have been the scene of one of the Hercules’ twelve labors), the Romans (who used it as a strategic base and erected a statute of Augustus to commemorate his victory over the Gauls), the Vandals, Goths, Lombards, and Saracens.
Since the 13th century the reigning princes of the principality of Monaco have been Grimaldis a family that fled from Italy to Monaco, later to become rich landlords, and later still  (1793) to become dispossessed by the national convention during the French Revolution.

Monaco’s throne was restored in 1814 but the family fortune had been lost.  Honoré V struggled valiantly but unsuccessfully to rebuild it; and when he died his successor, Florentine, made a desperate effort to remind people of Monaco’s existence by turning it into a health resort.

At that time health resorts were becoming extremely fashionable throughout Europe, and in many cases extremely profitable.  One in particular Germany’s Baden-Baden-was flourishing, largely because a new casino had been opened there.  It was said that the holder of this casino concession was taking in as much as 50,000 francs ($ 10,000) a day.  In Places like Homburg and Pyrmont, casinos strategy concept were having similar successes.

The Grimaldis were quick to perceive the revenue possibilities in this casino boom.  So in 1856, when two French entrepreneurs named Albert Aubert and Léon Langlois expressed a desire to start a “Société de Jeux” in Monaco for the promotion of sea-bathing facilities, they were immediately granted a 35-year monopoly.  They planned to provide a theatre, a restaurant, a new hotel, beaches, and gambling rooms, and to start a regular steamer service between Monaco and Nice.  In return for the monopoly, they agreed to pay a quarter of their profits to the principality.

The ornate main casino at Monaco’s Monte Carlo, most famous of Europe’s gambling centers, where hardened professionals, hopeful amateurs, and casual tourists from all over the world come to mix with  the famous and gamble in high style.

But these ambitious plans failed to materialize.  The partners evidently lacked the capital needed to transform their dreams into a reality; they had to sell the casino concession.  The concession changed hands several more times during the next few years.  Then, in 1861, the Grimaldis suffered a near-fatal blow.  In that year the Turin Peace Treaty was signed between France and Austria, bringing to an end the war that France and Sardinia had been waging jointly against Austria.  In the negotiations that followed, Monaco’s two leading townships, Roquebrune and Menton , were annexed by France.  This took away four fifths of Monaco’s terriotory  and reduced it to its present size.  To soften the blow, France agreed to pay Prince Charles of Monaco the equivalent of $ 600,000 and to build a new highway and a railway connecting Monaco and Nice.

A game of chemin-de-fer in the main gambling hall at Monte Carlo in 1874.  Today it is forbidden to take photographs of the casino’s layout, or of a game in progress, due to stringent security precautions.

It was, surprisingly, at this juncture that Monaco’s fortunes began to take a turn for the better.  Prince Charles had head that a casino was flourishing at Homburg, and that it was being run by a brilliant Parisian financier named François Blanc.  In a moment of inspiration Charles suggested to the harassed owners of Monte Carlo’s apparently useless casino concession that they approach Blanc and ask him to take it over.  The offer was accepted.  Once again (in 1863) the concession changed hands-for the equivalent of $ 366,000.

When Blanc took over the casino, communications by both land and sea were incredibly bad.  The only way to reach Monaco by land was by carriage over a narrow mountain road that led over the Corniche (known today as the Grand Corniche ) from Nice to La Tourbie,and cost 50 francs ($ 10) and took three hours; the descent from there on foot to Monaco took another hour.  On fine days a steamship (under the command of the Monégasque captain Imbert) crossed from Nice to Monaco, but the service was extremely erratic.

When travelers did finally arrive at Monaco, there were no hotels to stay at, and no restaurants to eat in.  The Casino itself (a temporary building in the Rue Lorraine ) was shabbily decorated, and play on its few tables was frequently stopped because the casino had run out of funds.  It is hardly surprising that there was a dearth of customers.  “From an existence of dreaming inaction,” Blanc wrote in the Journal de Monaco. “Monaco must rouse itself to one of courage and activity.  A whole town remains to be built.

Monte Carlo casino in the 1860s, shortly after its completion.  Less than 10 years later, luxurious gardens surrounded the casino, a railway linked Monaco with Nice, sea communications had been improved, a large hotel had been built, and Monte Carlo was well on the way to becoming the gamblers’ Mecca that it is today.

Blanc brought to Monaco exactly what was needed-experience, energy, and capital.  In next to no time he had built a new casino ( it was inaugurated in May 1865) and beside it a new hotel, the Hotel de Paris .  He then spent the equivalent of $ 400,000 on roads, gardens, and the harbor, and gradually new town ( occupying more than half of Monaco) was built up round casino.  In 1896 the reigning prince, Charles III, decreed that the area (which was dominated by a mountain) should be called Monte Carlo.

Within five years of Blanc’s arrival in Monaco, the proposed railway line between Nice and Monaco was in operation; and in 1870 a new road between the two towns was completed.  Once the communications had been improved, visitors began pouring into Monaco, and Blanc did everything possible to encourage them to stay.  For instance, he reduced (as he had at Homburg ) the number of zeros on the roulette wheel from two to one, lessening the bank’s advantage.  Nevertheless, he was still able to show a profit of 800,000 francs *$ 160,000) at the end of the casino’s first year of business.

Blanc’s success naturally provoked a certain amount of envy –particularly among the neighboring towns.  The Nice newspapers opened a violent campaign against the new casino, claiming that it was responsible for a sudden rise in the suicide rate.  In one story they declared that bodies of broken gamblers were piling up in the grottoes below the casino’s rock; in another, that bodies were being taken out to sea and dumped.  These fanciful stories spread abroad, and in the 1870s diatribes against the new casino often appeared in the newspapers of America and England.

But despite the rumors and the bad publicity (which began to subside when Blanc put a number of editors on his payroll) the casino continued to prosper.  When Blanc died in 1877 he left a fortune worth about $ 14,400,000.

François Blanc’s able son Camille took over the direction of the casino on his father’s death, and under him it continued to prosper and expand.  The original, rather modest, structure was redesigned and extended.  A new west wing housed the Monte Carlo Opera House and Theatre (opened 1879 in the presence of Prince Charles III of Monaco and Sarah Bernhardt) and a new east wing housed the salle privée (a select gaming room where only the extremely wealthy could afford to play).