Gaming houses were first licensed in Paris in 1775 with the idea that the profits would be applied to aid Parisian hospitals. Soon there were twelve gaming houses, with a couple of illegal ones tolerated. Although gaming houses were primarily a man’s place for fun and relaxation, women were permitted to enjoy themselves as such establishments two days a week.
Three years after gaming houses were licensed, gaming was banned, but gaming still occurred in these houses and in the hotels of ambassadors, where police did not have jurisdiction. When punishment was meted out for gaming, it was always trivial. For that reason, gaming houses continued to exist during the French Revolution, but they were frequently “prosecuted and licenses withheld.”
Hoping to put an end to gaming, new prohibitory measures were taken and enforced in 1786 in Paris. However, it did not deter gaming as people like the Queen, the Princesse de Lamballe, and the Duke of Orléans all gambled. Because gaming could not be stopped and because there was a demand for it by the public, by the early 1800s, gaming houses were regularly licensed and frequently inspected by police.
A Spanish traveler to Paris went to several gaming houses while visiting Paris in 1824 and sent a letter about his experience to Mr. Urban at the Gentleman’s Magazine. Here is that letter nearly verbatim:
There are nine public Gaming Houses at Paris, licensed by the French Government and the holders of them pay annually to the Government six millions of francs (250,000l.) for permission to keep them. The capital daily appropriated as a bank for the whole, is about 30,000l. The first in consideration is the “Salon,” in the Rue de la Grange-Batelière; then “Frescati,” in the Rue Richelieu [a long street that started in the the south of the 1st arrondissement and ended in the 2nd arrondissement]; and subsequently No. 9, 154, and others in the Palais Royal, and different parts of Paris.
The games played are, rouge et noir, roulette, and hazard. The dealers of the cards, and those who officiate at roulette and hazard, are not allowed to play themselves, but received a Napoleon per day (16s. 8d.) as their pay.
The “Salon” alone requires an introduction from one of the members to the French marquis, who presides, before a stranger can enter. When a stranger has been introduced, there is usually an invitation sent to him to dine at the Salon on Thursday, on which day a magnificent dinner is given gratis to all the members. Every delicacy is provided, and the choicest wines — Champagne in abundance, which is drunk only in tumbrels. Too many have found to their sorrow, that this dinner, nominally gratis, has cost them many hundred pounds? Dinner being over, the company adjourn to the tables below, where the play goes on briskly. After dinner a man is less on his guard, and Champagne is a stimulus to play with freedom and resolution. Of this the “chèf” of the Salon is well aware, and some of the numerous waiters in attendance are ready to lend money to those who may have lost all which they had about them.
This arrangement, which at first appears hazardous, is in reality productive of immense profit, for if lost (which is too often the case), the money is in fact paid back to the concern; and if the borrower should win, he usually refunds the loan before leaving the room; and if unsuccessful, it remains for him to repay the waiters as “a debt of honour.” Lending money to a losing gamester is like attempting to fill a leaky vessel.
This system of lending is productive of ruin to many who play; for a man can retire without being hurt, after losing only the money which he had in his pocket; but he may lose thousands if he continues to borrow; for there is a disposition in gamesters to pursue a run of ill luck, and the feelings are actuated by a sort of frenzy and spirit of revenge to regain that which they feel as if unjustly deprived of. — Let a man win, and the gratification he feels renders him almost incapable of leaving the tables; or if he retires, it is only to come again; so that he must lose the more he plays. It is like buying all the tickets in a lottery.
A short time since, a foreign Prince won at the Salon 10,000l,; with such a sum many a man would have thought himself content, but to win is productive of nearly as much ill as to lose,
‘Quo plus sunt potae, plus sitiuntur acquae.’
This young man was so intoxicated with success, that he distressed himself by not only losing that sum, but an additional 8,000l.
At two o’clock in the morning a supper is provided “gratis” at the Salon; this hour is probably chosen, because few come to supper except to play, as the opera and theatres shut much earlier, and, except the “gamesters,” most persons have retired. The Salon continues open until five or six o’clock in the morning. At the Salon only rouge and noir and hazard are played.
An English nobleman well known as a great frequenter both of the Salon and Frescati, lost a short time since 40,000l.
At Frescati rouge et noir and roulette are played both day and night. — Here neither dinner nor supper is provided, but a number of “women of the town” of superior appearance are allowed to enter and they attract numbers of persons.
Twice or thrice in the year a magnificent ball and supper is given “gratis,” and to add to the splendour, several of the opera girls are hired to dance.
It might be said, in reference to the ruin occasioned by play after dinner at the Salon, and the general bad consequence of a habit of playing, that a dinner at the “Salon” operates as “poison,” and in the same way, the “beauty met with at Frescati,” may be considered as “fatal.”
The gaming houses in the Palais Royal are open day and night, and free entrance is allowed to all who choose to go in. They offer no inducement beyond the hope of gain.
How inconsistent and absurd on the part of Louis XVIII to forbid on Sunday night the opera being performed, when every night in the week these hells are open to the public! What mockery, when we read that the “sacred cause of Religion alone” induced the Duke of Angloulême to invade Spain with a numerous army, when in the Capital of his uncle such depravity of morals, and frequent self-destruction, are occasioned by licensed and encouraged gaming!
The number of suicides in Paris are calculated at one per day, and it is considered that gaming is one of the first and most powerful causes for such destruction of human life.
Before anyone embarks his fortune at play, let him consider the impossibility of winning for a continuance, because the chances are largely in favour of the tables; were it otherwise, how could 250,000l. be paid to Government? How is Champagne and a splendid dinner for forty or more persons to be provided weekly at the Salon? — And the balls, suppers, and the beauties of Frescati, who offers these to the public? The losers!! — And who wins? No one!!
The gamester is always poor; for whatever he wins he considers as brass, and whatever he loses he values as gold!
It is reasonable to expect a “cherry clack,” veered by “every wind,” to maintain the precision of the movement of the wheel of a steam-engine, as for any one to believe he can possible win at any of the public Gaming Tables.
Last year the principal holder of the Gaming Tables, after paying every expense, is said to have netted 20,000l.
-  The History of Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Volume 2, 1832, p. 532.
-  Urban, Sylvanus, The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1824, p. 99-100.