Casinos in France

The casino scene in France is remarkable in four respects. First of all, several popular table games originated here and that is an understandable source of pride for Frenchmen. The baccarat variation "chemin de fer" is, as the name implies, a fast-paced French improvement.

Secondly, the country has far and away the most gaming venues of any European country (455, second-ranked U.K. has only one-fourth as many) and stands second only to the U.S. worldwide.

Thirdly, casinos are an egalitarian affair. They are both smaller than the spectacular standards set by Las Vegas and are dispersed all over France, chiefly in coastal resorts and spa's in the countryside. In Paris itself, there are only two, "Cercle Haussman" and "Aviation Club de France" (ACF), although the "Casino Barrière d'Enghien-les-Bains" is right on the outskirts. Cannes and Nice also boast three each.

The Barrière property in Paris exemplifies both the stylish ambience of French casinos and the popularity of slots in the nation. The décor is a throwback to the liberal and fun-filled twenties. Atmosphere aside, the 280 slot machines here are the prime attraction though there is also roulette, blackjack and baccarat to be had.

The ACF, on the other hand, embodies the great enthusiasm of the French for poker. As the prime poker "salon", ACF hosts the French leg of the World Poker Tour tournament and assorted competitions year-round.

As to scale, fully 355 slot machines or video poker machines and 14 games tables make the Casino de Divonnes les Bains in the city of that name one of the biggest. Boasting 400 slot machines, Lyon Vert Casino in Nice currently has pride of place as the largest.

The truth is, the French gaming industry eschews the grand scale so typical of the flashiest American and Macau casinos. French casinos seem to stress style and elegance more. "Palais de la Mediterranee" casino hotel, for example, is well-regarded for its wonderful décor. The ambience combines Egyptian, Greek and 1930's-era influences. All these lavish touches for a casino that houses just 17 card tables, and 8 for roulette (6 American and 2 French).

The fourth phenomenon is widespread enthusiasm for online gaming and sports betting because of restrictions on traditional casino-style establishments. Thus, the two biggest casino combines - Groupe Partouche SA (GP) and Groupe Lucien Barrière (GLB) - have also tried to leverage Net-based gambling in the face of a monopoly by the government-owned La Française des Jeux.

Ranked the second-biggest casino operator in Europe, GP also runs hotels, restaurants and night clubs as adjuncts to 58 casinos throughout France, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, and Tunisia. Aside from core activities of roulette, poker, black-jack, slot machines numbering 5,601 in France alone) and video poker machines, GP/Partouche Interactive expanded into online gaming in April 2006. The group also established Partouche International in Belgium, ostensibly to cater to online gamers in other EU markets but targeting the French as well.

GLB runs 16 hotels, 39 casinos, 169 restaurants, bars and night clubs, three golf clubs, one thalassotherapy centre and two tennis clubs. One-third of the casinos are in a luxury hotel setting, whether in Paris, the Côte d'Azur, the Atlantic, Normandy, or the lake at Enghien-les-Bains. Owners of the famous Le Fouquet's on the Champs Elysees, GLB positions itself on a far longer tradition of hospitality, elegance and pampering of guests in spas.

All in all, hundreds of modest-sized French casinos cater to locals and tourists who enjoy the unique cuisine, resort or spa settings, and a more stylish, traditional ambience.