Ah yes, the famous casino. I struggled mightily with this dilemma: I want to appear cool, calm, and natural--like I belong inside. But I also need photos in front of the building, cause at the end of the day, I am a tourist (for now...). What to do? In the end, the photos gave precedence and I allowed myself to take a very short few--didn't bother to check the results of whoever I gave my camera to--which resulted in shoddy camera work at best. So I have lots of good photos of the casino itself, but none in focus of me in front. You'll just have to take my word for it that I was there, and I was determined to blend in.
The best of the lot. I'll just have to pop down to the Beacon Hall parking lot when I get home to work some photoshop magic--thanks in advance for the use of your car, Mr. Iwai! (kidding, of course)
Entry to the casino floor is 10 Euros, so I quickly paid and handed my technology over to coat check--no cameras, phones, or iPads allowed inside. Very exclusive. I was happy because a) it's coat check in Monte Carlo, I'm pretty sure that means my stuff will be safe, and b) this necessarily removed all airs of tourist from my person. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.
Walking into a place like that alone is very intimidating, I'm not going to lie to you. Especially when you've never been to a casino before. The gilded ceilings, the dealers in tuxedos at the tables beckoning you over, the slots hidden at the back like a reluctant afterthought (for the tourists, I'm sure--no yacht owner would be caught dead pumping euro coins into a machine that lights up, how plebeian). It's a lesson in creating self-confidence even when you don't have any, that's for sure. I did a few rounds to familiarize myself with the layout and was going to get a drink, but then I saw the prices and almost died. When a beverage costs more than the entry (they started at 16 Euros for a glass of wine, I believe), it's probably a good idea to pass.
The tables are laid out in a circle facing outwards, and there are about eight chairs around each. You can play roulette, blackjack, or something else I didn't know. There's velvet ropes separating the players from the observers. I was happy to remain behind the rope, but reminded myself I didn't come here to watch like the rest of the tourists. That doesn't count as going to the casino! So if I'm going to do something, I'd better not half-ass it. Not having a clue how to play, I found myself at the roulette table.
Roulette is an interesting game because there's no skill involved; the ball drops completely randomly each and every time. Yet people can't help but look for patterns--the house posts the last ten numbers, even though it doesn't matter at all. I deciphered that you can bet on red or black, odd or even, manqué or passé (under or over 18), a single number, or combinations. Colors seemed like a good place to start--you don't win a huge amount, but you have aa 50/50 shot at doubling your money, so I changed 20 Euros and got to work.
The dealers were really helpful--they explained the basics of the game, and they kept giving me free 24-Euro glasses of champagne and chocolate marzipan (it was a gamble itself on whether I would have to pay, but I figured I'd take my chances. Good call, Katy). Apparently I'm a high-roller. I went with it. I think they were trying to keep me at the table; the crowd seemed to follow whichever table I sat at. NO idea why--it's not like I was gambling thousands on number 11, unlike SOME people at the table...(it's amazing to see the volume of money that changes hands so quickly. I saw a guy lose 20 thousand euros on a single play, and then win 50 the next) On second thought, maybe they were actually following him around...that still doesn't explain the free champagne though--oh well, I'm not complaining.
Me doing my best to blend in...the free champagne tells me I did alright!
There are really eccentric characters that come to the Monte Carlo casino. I sat beside an octogenarian named Marcel who would gamble his chips "pour vous"; an aged Asian lady named Tata who brought me quiche and Monaco's answer to pizza, because she didn't want me having champagne on an empty stomach; an Italian with a blue sport coat Robert Herjavec would die to wear, who insisted on betting my birthday (which turned out to be a bad idea, he lost quite a lot--sorry about that!)
It was really fun to have a seat at the table, even though I was making tiny bets (the minimum was 5 Euros). I could see all the tourists in their clothes brought specifically for this night, failing miserably to blend in. Have a little respect for this institution! If I can manage to fit in at the casino while backpacking the world, there's no excuse for your sneakers. It reminds me of when I go to the ballet--you don't HAVE to dress up to go, if you buy a ticket they'll let you in with jeans on, but it's traditional! Put on the damn suit.
Someone told me you should never gamble with money you can't stand to lose, so once I doubled my money, I put 20 Euros worth of chips away so that I would at least walk away breaking even. Smart move. I was all the way up to 100 Euros in profit, but I kept playing and lost it all except an extra 20, so I decided to call it a night while I still had money and headed home. My first night at the casino was a success. I can't wait to go back there when I have millions of my own money to play with! I'll always remember getting my James Bond on in Monte Carlo. Even if I didn't meet any royalty (or maybe I did and just didn't know it--in Monaco, you never know!)