European Casinos

Nice, from whence in the nineteenth century the railway took gamblers to Monte Carlo, now has flourishing casinos of its own.

Le Tourquet and Biarritz in France, San Remo, Venice and Rome in Italy, and Esotril in Portugal, also provide green felt scenery where the wheels turn and the dice rattle.

The casino at Homburg, which Francois Blanc created before he developed Monte Carlo, closed in 1872, and pride of lace among German casinos belongs to Baden-Baden.

Dostoevsky gambled at Homburg right up to its end, and also at Wiesbaden and Baden-Baden, although it was at Saxon-les-Baines that the advance on The Gambler was dissipated at roulette.

Baden-Baden has achieved its eminence comparatively recently. The casino has been in existence for 200 years, but it was the health-giving waters which attracted most nineteenth-century visitors.

In eighteenth-century London, gambling was one of the main attractions at the select clubs, particularly Brook's and White's, on St. James's Street.

The members, which included statesmen, nobility and the mere idle rich, entered their wagers in a book, and bets were made on racehorses, the imminence of wars, which countries were liable to invade which others, the life expectancy of older members and the prospects of certain unmarried ladies producing children by given dates.

William Crockford, the son of a Temple Bar fishmonger, and a passionate gambler and bookmaker, was aware of the exclusive world of the clubs and nursed a desire to belong to them.

An untidy man, with a coarse cockney voice and an insatiable appetite for women and food, Crockford seemed unlikely to be accepted by the society to which he aspired.

But he made sufficient money on the race course by devious means to but four houses in St. James's Street, which he knocked down to build a gambling club of his own. He also had to help rebuild the neighboring Guard's Club, which the zeal of his workmen had caused to fall down.

Nevertheless, in 1828, Crockford's Club opened. The Duke of Wellington, the Earls of Sexton and Chesterfield and Prime Minister Disraeli were early members. The Club became fashionable, the profits mounted, and soon William Crockford, fishmonger's son, was living in Carlton House Terrace as the proprietor of the most renowned gambling house in the land.

His remaining ambition was to win the Derby and he owned the second favorite, Ratan, in 1844. This notorious race was won by an ineligible 4-year old and Ratan, who was suspected of being doped, finished seventh.

Three days later the disappointed Crockford died, claiming with his last words that he had been 'done'. His death coincided with a strict enforcement of gambling laws, and a year later, the club was closed.

However, in 1928, exactly 100 years after the opening for the original Crockford's club, the name was revived for a bridge club, traditions were also revived and today 'Crockford's' is once more a gambling club.

 
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