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Gambling in revolutionary Paris — The Palais Royal: 1789–1838

Abstract

By the revolution of 1789, the four-story, quadrangular Palais Royal in Paris had become the most glittering tourist center of Europe, with 180 shops and cafes in its ground floor arcades. By 1791, its basement and secondary story contained over 100 separate, illicit gambling operations featuring the most popular dice and card games. The mania for gambling had been transferred from defunct, monarchical Versailles to the thriving, bourgeois Palais Royal, where the five main gaming clubs throbbed from noon till midnight. During the Revolution, Prince Talleyrand won 30,000 francs at one club, and after Waterloo in 1815, Marshal Blucher lost 1,500,000 francs in one night at another. To bring the situation under control and raise taxes for the state, in 1806 Napoleon legalized the main clubs, which from 1819 to 1837 grossed an enormous 137 million francs. When the anti-gambling forces triumphed in 1837 and the clubs were closed down, the National Guard had to be called out to evict the mobs of gamblers who refused to leave the tables. Dramatic reports from Revolutionary police raids, and quotations from the memoirs of humorous French gamblers and shocked foreign visitors, provide anecdotal illustrations of the 49 years during which the Palais Royal was the most intriguing and picturesque gambling mecca of Europe—and probably of the world.

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A longer version of this article, with more complete bibliography and footnotes, can be found in W.R. Eadington and J.A. Cornelius (eds.),Gambling and Public Policy: International Perspectives, Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada, Reno, 1991.

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Barnhart, R.T. Gambling in revolutionary Paris — The Palais Royal: 1789–1838. J Gambling Stud 8, 151–166 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01014633

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01014633

Keywords

  • Ground Floor
  • Card Game
  • National Guard
  • Foreign Visitor
  • Tourist Center