The second smallest country in the world, Monaco is a kind of gambling Mecca - up there in most people's minds with Las Vegas and Macau. The Monte Carlo Casino complex is one of the most luxurious and famous in the world, known for its stunning fountains out front and, of course, James Bond's numerous escapades at the venue.
On paper, the principality is the picture of glitz and glamour, with its million-pound yachts perfectly placed in the harbour and the winding streets providing an ideal setting for Formula One's best-known Grand Prix race. In real life, however, Monaco is striving to keep gambling as its national business, rather than its pastime, leading to some strict and surprising laws.
So to start, Monaco's citizens aren't actually allowed to gamble in their famous casinos. In fact, they're not even allowed inside - although this law is relaxed for casino employees, as lawmakers wisely agreed it help to be able to get into the building you work at. However, foreign nationals are free to gamble in the casinos and given that they make up 80% of the 36,000 population, that's most of the country anyway.
The history of the gambling ban itself is a large part of why Monaco has the identity it does today. Charles III, Prince of Monaco in the late 1800s, created the restriction during a fiscal crisis. With the country on its knees financially, Charles took to studying the economics of neighbouring countries and hatched a plan to create a gaming industry targeting, amongst others, the English upper class. To allow his own citizens to gamble would've been counter productive to his aim of bringing money into the country, so he banned them. His idea worked so well that Monaco paid off its current debts and had such sustainability from their gambling industry that they were in a position to abolish taxes.
The secret to Monte Carlo's success was the French entrepreneur François Blanc, a.k.a. The Magician of Monte Carlo, who invented single-zero roulette - a game that remained exclusive to Monte Carlo until 1933. Monaco's royal family, the House of Grimaldi, still reigns today and is the longest running monarchy in the world, having ruled since 1419. They are a major shareholder in SBM, the company that owns Monte Carlo casinos and most of the general tourism industry in Monaco. SBM is split almost exactly in three in terms of ownership, with the Government of Monaco and the public owning the other two thirds.
The five casinos themselves are largely self-regulated and operate under loose and somewhat informal rules, while the online laws are equally indeterminate. There were initial plans to ban citizens gambling on foreign websites to monopolise the market in Monaco, but since these were rejected, residents remain free to gamble online as they wish.
Monaco hosts a number of sports events, but with wealthy foreigners making up a large portion of the population, it lacks a real sense of patriotic sporting identity. The Monaco Grand Prix is popular, but generally attended by the rich nationals and wealthy tourists rather than locals. Monaco Football Club presides in the French Ligue 1, but despite significant investment to buy in some of the world's top talent, the small home crowds suggest that Monacans don't quite share in most European countries' passion for the game.
The current Prince of Monaco, Albert II, is an avid athlete, competing at five Winter Olympics from 1988-2002 in bobsleighing, although he failed to win any medals. He's also a member of the International Olympic Committee and has attempted to popularise sports such as judo, fencing and tennis in Monaco.
The Monte Carlo casino has hosted all but one of the nine annual European Poker Tour Grand Finals, despite the fact that nationals are not allowed to play. Although they could potentially participate in online tournaments, no notably successful poker players have emerged from the principality yet.
There are whispers that France may extend their jurisdiction into Monaco, introducing strict licences for online betting companies and banning casino games altogether. Citizens at the moment are allowed to bet with international companies, but if France enforced their policies, any foreign website would have to adhere to strict rules in order to gain a licence. Even then only sports betting, poker and slots would be allowed, with games such as roulette, blackjack and craps all restricted to physical casinos only. Another good reason to visit in person - but potentially disastrous for local fans of online gambling.
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