Turning with great reluctance away from the wonderful view from the library windows—an entrancing view of the promontory of Monaco and its castle, of the blue sea, of the White Mountains, of the Casino grounds and fountains and statues, I found a better assortment of foreign newspapers than I had seen anywhere else in Europe, including a large number of illustrated friends from New York that I had not seen before for many a day. Some of them were of such recent date that they were not more than a fortnight hold, which was from one to two weeks better than what I have lately been used to in Marseilles.|
Postal guides will tell you differently, but I can tell you from experience that the time for a letter from New York to Marseilles is twelve to fourteen days, and for a newspaper anything under a month. And as to cablegrams in Paris, if one is sent you from New York on the first of the month you may begin to look for it about the 3d.
Within the Gambling Salon.
In this quiet pleasant place the moments passed so quickly that when I looked up from the papers the hands of the big clock pointed to a quarter past 12—time for me to be at my post of observation in the gambling rooms.
Going down to the Atrium again, I found that room totally deserted, save for the guards at the doors. The people who had been in it before clearly had been waiting only for the gambling to begin, and had pressed in the moment the doors were opened, eager to lose no valuable time.
The green baize doors swung aside, and I was in the greatest gambling house in the world and the finest, as I have every reason to believe, though that I have to take on hearsay. I was prepared to be surprised, and should have been surprised if I had not been; but the size and the elegance of the rooms were more than I had anticipated. More than that was the surprise of seeing the entire place in full operation at twenty minutes after noon, people crowding in tiers three or four deep around every table, roulette wheels spinning, the green cloths glittering with heaps of gold and silver coins, and crisp French bank notes fluttering like dry leaves in the Autumn wind. At that hour gamblers are supposed to be just rubbing their eyes and ringing for coffee or cocktails, but there they were, hard at work the minute the rooms were opened for business.
There are three of the gambling rooms, each as large and as high as a church, and much grander than most churches; three rooms that are practically one, as they are connected with doorways so high and broad that when you enter the first salon you see what is passing in them all, though the people in the last one look like pigmies, so great is the distance, and their voices are unheard. At least they would be unheard if the players spoke; but there is deep silence generally at the tables, so busy are the faithful at their devotions. The decorations are so fine, in floors, walls, and ceiling, the long rows of chandeliers so bright, the hangings to rich, that you hardly notice the utter absence of furniture in them all, beyond the tables, and the cushioned seats around the walls.
In the first room two roulette tables were in operation in the centre of the floor, and two more, not in use, stood at one side. The spectators were all gathered about the tables, leaving what looked like some acres of unoccupied space in the great apartment. There were no officers or attendants in uniform, no visible obstacles to each visitor's going where he pleased and doing what he liked, though many of the apparent spectators were doubtless officers in ordinary clothes.
Around each table fifteen or eighteen chairs were placed, with a higher one in the centre of one side for the operator. The chairs were filled with players, men and women, all looking as if they had plenty of money to spare, all well dressed, hardly any very young people, plenty of people old enough to know better, old dowagers well decorated with frescoes of paint and powder, young Dukes in immaculate linen and snowy ties, as if they had just come out of the hands of the valet; women of less than middle age, people who watched the play with anxious faces, people who carelessly threw on twenty-franc gold pieces and apparently forgot all about them; old chaps with dyed hair and mustaches who could tell you things that happened in 1820, b'gad, Sah; and everything went as smoothly as if the dapper man in evening clothes in the centre were a Sunday school teacher, and the class were drinking in facts about Moses and Ananias. And behind the seated players were two or three rows of people standing.
At the Roulette Table.
I know so little about the game of roulette that I ought to be able to describe it very nicely. There is a wheel in the centre of the table, a very shiny, aristocratic-looking wheel, divided into mysterious sections, set in the midst of a lot of little terraces like the sides of a stationary dry dock. And the table top is laid off in other sections of irregular sizes and shapes.
The operator drops in a marble and gives the wheel a whirl, and while it is humming you lay your money on whatever part of the table you choose. No "chips" or counters are used here, as in most gambling houses; you play with the money itself. In this game you can bet as low as 5 francs at a time or as high as 6,000 francs. This is the "cheap" game of the place; but as you can make a new bet about once every two minutes it is possible to risk a very considerable amount of money in the course of a busy day.
Away goes the wheel, and whether you win or lose depends upon the section of the wheel in which the marble remains when it stops. It is no great secret that most roulette wheels are made with an internal mechanism that enables the operator to stop them at any point desired, and to control the winnings and losings. However, the wheel stops, and you find that you have lost, and croupier draws in your money with a little wooden rake. He draws in all the bank's winnings first, making an imposing pile of bullion after each whirl, and then rakes in each player's winnings separately. Suppose you have bet ten gold pieces and won. He draws them toward him, counts them, puts ten more of equal value with them, and pushes the whole over to you, and you are filled with joy.
I should think that eight out of ten bets were won by the bank; but that in itself is no sign of unfair play, as many of the bets are so made that they win eight or sixteen to one if they win at all, and in these cases the player who loses fifteen times and wins the sixteenth comes out even.
At the roulette table silver five-franc pieces and gold ten and twenty franc pieces are chiefly used, and every two or three minutes the tables are covered with a fresh lot. Some of the players accumulate piles of winnings, but the bank's pile grows with encouraging steadiness and rapidity. Sometimes a handful of gold is laid on one of the sections without counting. If it loses it is raked in, still uncounted, but if it wins the operator has to count it and return it with an equal amount added. Fearfully, frightfully tired these fellows must grow of whirling their wheels and counting other people's money all day long, handling thousands every day, but keeping only their little pittance of a few dollars a week.
In the second, the middle, room, the scene was precisely the same, roulette wheels humming and clicking and players talking in whispers, if at all.
The Play of Trente et Quarante.
But in the third room I found the Trente et Quarante tables going, a game of which I know nothing at all save that it is played with cards, so I can describe only what I saw. The tables are divided into sections very much like the roulette tables, but the cards themselves were the first things to attract my attention. They are beautiful cards of pure white, much smaller than ordinary cards, daintily painted on one side, but plain white on the back, and with rounded corners. As everything depends upon their being unmarked, and as the white backs are easily stained, they are changed every few minutes.
The dealer has put before him a pile of these small cards about four inches high, composed evidently of five or six packs, and he shuffles them well and stands them in a corner made to receive them, so that they are prim and even, and looks enquiringly around the table for some player to cut them. Someone reaches over for that purpose, but he does not touch the cards. The dealer hands him a narrow strip of cardboard, which he inserts in the pile at whatever point he wishes to have them cut. Every eye around the table is fixed upon the cards—and some of the eyes have a 'you can't come any games on me' look. The dealer cuts the pile where the card is inserted and all is ready.
Now the money goes up. No paltry five-franc bets here, for this is the strictly "business" game of Monte Carlo. The lowest stake received is 20 francs; the highest is 12,000 francs; each player can risk 12,000 francs every two or three minutes, if he desires. There is no silver on the table, and comparatively little gold. Notes are handier for large amounts, and table is soon full of notes. The dealer slips off one card from the top of the pile and throws it face up upon the table; another, another, and another. Then comes the fifth card, which everybody watches eagerly, for that is the one that tells the story. I think it is the fifth; possibly it might be the sixth.
Here is a neat little pile of notes at my end of the table, that has won (not mine, I am compelled to say.) They are crushed up together, and the croupier draws them in and counts them. One thousand, two, three, four, five, six crisp one-thousand-franc notes. The dealer does not turn pale, but counts out six more from his pile and hands them over to winner. That is one bet out of perhaps twenty, and by no means the largest, but good enough for a noontime beginning. Now another shuffle, another cut, more notes on the table, and the whole thing is repeated. Time is money—for the bank.
The players are more interesting studies here than at the roulette tables, for their stakes are larger. But they can be studied to better advantage at night. This is only Monte Carlo at noon. I am curious to see this hive of industry under the glitter of the lamps.
TIME Magazine, January 19, 1953, p. 85:|
BUSINESS & FINANCE: SHIPPING: The Man Who Bought the Bank
Aristotle Socrates Onassis is a Greek-born Argentine who water-skis in the best international circles and includes among his friends Prince Ranier III, Pooh-Bah of the tiny principality of Monaco and its famed Monte Carlo Casino. At 47, Onassis has homes in Paris, New York, Montevideo and Antibes, owns or controls a fleet of 91 tankers, freighters and whaling ships worth an estimated $300 million, and has a pretty, 23-year-old wife. But he didn't get all this by breaking the bank at Monte Carlo-- quite the opposite. Last week "Ari" Onassis let it be known that, for $1,000,000, he had bought the 75-year-old Casino, lock, stock and roulette table, and with it, the purse strings of Monaco. Reason: he needed some office space.
As top man in nearly 30 shipping companies* under five different flags, Onassis already has headquarters in Montevideo, branch offices in Paris, London, New York, Hamburg and Panama. But since much of his tanker business is bringing oil from the Middle East through the Mediterranean to Northern Europe, he thought he should have offices near the Mediterranean ports of Marseille and Genoa, where many of his ships are repaired. To Onassis, some empty buildings he had seen on a visit to Monaco looked ideal. A year ago, he approached Monaco's Societe des Bains de Mer et Cercle des Etrangers (Sea Bathing Society and Foreigners Club) which controls most Monacan real estate, along with the Monte Carlo Casino. Would they rent him a building? They would not.
Craps & Hand Grenades. But as soon as Onassis called on his old friend, Prince Ranier, the atmosphere became more friendly. The Casino, once the gathering place of rich royalty and the royally rich, had fallen on hard times. Gone were the days when Alexandra, Czarina of all the Russias, could bring the entire corps of the Imperial Ballet to dance while she gambles, when a Casino patron could toss a hand grenade into the roulette wheel after losing his wad and scarcely raise a commotion. Currency restrictions had cut the once-rich British trade to a trickle; the recently installed crap tables (TIME, Feb. 28, 1949), having failed to attract Americans in any quantities, were merely confusing the other customers, who stood around in baffled silence as the croupiers intoned such unfamiliar phrases as "I'm so hot I won't need a blanket tonight." In recent years, the Casino had lost money, and Prince Ranier, who gets 10% of the take in profitable years, was looking for some $1,000,000 in new capital. Three of the Casino's directors were out lining up money, when Onassis hove into sight.
Onassis lunched with the Prince several times, made himself useful around the palace to the extent of finding a 137-ft. diesel yacht for Monaco's boss. "People said I gave him a yacht," said Onassis. "Poof! He paid for it, 51 million francs, about $125,000." In any case, the Prince decided to drop his money-raising scheme. Instead, he approved Onassis' plan to buy control of the Sea Bathing Society from its 31,000 stockholders. When the directors returned from their money chase to tell the Prince that four of the biggest banks in France had agreed to put up the money, they found that the Prince's palace gates, guarded by royal carabinieri in blue tunics and scarlet collars, were closed to them. In a huff, the three resigned to make room for Onassis' representatives.
Grain & Tankers. The man who bought the bank at Monte Carlo started off as a D.P. from Smyrna after the Turks overran the city in 1922 and killed his father and other members of his family. Onassis had enough cash to buy passage for Argentina, where immigration restrictions were few. He worked for seven years as a tobacco importing agent, piled up about $180,000; in 1930, with his Greek citizenship restored, he became Greek consul general, at the age of 24, in Buenos Aires. Onassis supervised the comings and goings of Greek grain vessels, soon decided that his future lay in shipping. In the depths of the Depression, when old mariners were abandoning ship, Onassis climbed aboard. He took his savings and bought six old Canadian freighters that had cost $12 million to build only a few years before.
For a while, Onassis' shipping company ran in the red. But by 1936 he was making enough money to order a 15,000-ton tanker built for him in Sweden, thus became, he claims, the first Greek shipowner to get into oil transport. During the war, with most of his ships impounded in Sweden, he ran the rest of them for the Allies. At war's end, when Bethlehem Steel planned to close its Sparrows Point, Md. shipyard, Onassis came through with the first postwar order for tankers in the U.S., and persuaded the company to keep its shipyard going. The order was for six 18,000-ton tankers, at a total cost of $34 million.
Onassis is still expanding fast, has 23 more tankers on order (for $130 million) all over the world, including a 45,000-tonner at Hamburg. By next year, he will control 1,250,000 tons v. 750,000 now.
Onassis plans to move a staff of 100 into Monaco's Old Sporting Club building when it is remodeled next summer. He sees only one drawback to linking up with the Monte Carlo Casino, whose operations he will merely supervise from a distance. Says he: "We like to have good businessmen on our board. They don't want to be associated with a dying gambling joint." Most of Onassis' ships are now registered in Panama. Though he insists that he has no plans to switch them to the Monegasque flag, he admits that some of his new ships now on order will be registered in Monaco. Says he: "If I do that, others will want to come in, and there will be a little fleet."
*Among his biggest: Olympic Oil Lines, A.S. Onassis, Ltd., Olympic Maritime, A.G., Panama Maritime, S.A., South Atlantic Marine, S.A.