For the high rollers, casinos are the ultimate in apres-ski entertainment. And for the rest of us, casinos provide a fun way of using up euros on the last night in resort.
Often housed in big, plush hotels, you can combine a flutter at the tables with a meal, evening show or spa treatment. In fact all casinos in France are legally obliged to provide entertainment and restaurant facilities.
Casinos of the Alps are few and not necessarily where you would expect to find them, but OnTheSnow has scoured the peaks to bring you the best ski resorts to combine skiing and gambling.
France boasts plenty of casinos but geographically they are frozen in time to suit tourism in the early 1900s. If you like fading 19th-century thermal spas you will always find somewhere to blow away the family fortune. In the Alps however, the two main casinos are located in Chamonix and Megève.
Gambling has been a feature in the mountaineers’ paradise of Chamonix since British aristocrats ‘discovered’ the glacier in the 1740s whilst doing the grand tour. It really took off when Savoy became part of France in 1860 and the railway from Paris arrived.
The casino is housed in a splendid building dating back to the 1900s in the pedestrian area in front of the famous statue of Saussure and Balmat gazing at Mont Blanc. Slot machines accept 1 or 5 centime pieces for the cautious or impecunious as well as the usual gaming tables for the more serious punters. The casino management urges visitors ‘after winning large amounts of money’ to take advantage of all the facilities including the elegant Cafe Royal, located inside the casino. There are plenty of concerts and other entertainments.
The liveliest French alpine casino is in the centre of Megeve – a ski resort with old style architecture and great rolling mountains ideal for intermediate skiers. Quite unlike its sister in Chamonix, it is in traditional wooden chalet style with an attractive wood lined salle de jeux.
The establishment reflects the wealthy clientele of the resort – with a high ratio of eight tables for roulette and blackjack to the sixty slot machines. Bruno Morvant, the director of Casino Megeve, said, “We are central to the Megève scene; we are always busy in the holiday periods. It’s a fun place for those in the party who do not wish to ski but also through slot machines an affordable intro to the world of gambling for the young and not so affluent. Around 20 percent of clients are non-French from all over the world including Brits and Americans, even some Greeks, despite everything, and increasing numbers of Russians.” OnTheSnow can confirm that weekends and holidays the joint is definitely jumping.
Russian billionaires from France’s most exclusive resort, Courchevel, and city traders from neighbouring Méribel desperate to play the tables have to summon the chauffeur and motor down to the less-than-famous Brides-les-Bains at an altitude of 600m. Failed gamblers should note that accommodation there is 30- to 50-percent cheaper there than higher up the mountain.
Casino 3 Vallees has all the gear a serious gambler could want. The little town has been lucky in that it was chosen for the Olympic village for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics so a cable was built linking it to the better known and higher resorts. Since 2003 it has formally joined the world famous Trois Vallées complex via Méribel. Snow permitting, more energetic gamblers can ski down from Méribel.
Since 2000 the Confederation has licensed 21 casinos, which is a lot for such a small country. The question of addiction is taken very seriously however and some 34,000 Swiss are barred from entry to casinos. Only three of these establishments are in the mountains: Davos, Crans Montana and St. Moritz.
Davos is famous for international conferences and great skiing. The casino has been completely refurbished internally to the tune of 600,000 Swiss Francs and the gambling facilities improved. The casino is in the Hotel Europe with a super modern glass exterior. The number of tables has been increased and Texas hold’em poker has been introduced for the first time. There is a special area where smoking is allowed.
Crans Montana is another modern casino but the architecture is a bit more traditional. It is usually the most profitable in Switzerland. It has the relatively high number of 120 slot machines plus six tables.
The ultimate in luxury and prestige, as one would expect, is found St Moritz. Comfortably located in the western wing of the Kempinski Grand Hôtel des Bains, Casino St. Moritz provides high-quality entertainment in a dignified atmosphere.The word ‘Grand’ in the title of this hotel is no exaggeration. The restaurant has a Michelin star and the public rooms are magnificent. The service is second to none. At 1,860m it is the highest casino inEurope. The dress code at the Kempinski is more formal whereas Davos and Crans are pretty relaxed.
At 700 m², the casino itself is not huge, but has seven gambling tables: four American roulette, two blackjack, one 3 card poker and a total of 79 slot machines. The gambling rooms are in Italian style with warm colours and exclusive materials that make a visit quite a visual experience.
Casinos in Austria are licensed in 12 different centres and only three of them are in the high Alps. They are privately owned but the licenses are all granted to the same company, Casinos Austria, in which the state has a 40-percent share.
The most elegant Austrian casino is in fashionable Kitzbühel – home of the most famous World Cup downhill run on the Hannenkamm, the Streif. The casino is installed in beautiful Hotel Goldener Greif, built in 1274 in the centre of this old world resort. Marketing manager Nadja Schramm says, “The historic and attractive interior gives the casino a really intimate feeling, not intimidating to skiers looking for fun, unlike some casinos.” 50 percent of clients are Austrian followed by Germans, Dutch, Swiss and Brits.
The other high-mountain casino is in the excellent family winter resort of Seefeld with its super modern ski lift system. But, parents will sneak away at night for the casino action. Seefeld specialises in casino-ski packages. For example, a daily ski pass to the Rosshütte mountain railways or Gschwandtkopf lifts, a visit at the casino, a glass of sparkling wine and welcome chips are a good value. Other packages include spa facilities and there are regular ladies-only days combining a visit to the casino and sauna.
The Casino is on one floor, split into several very large areas. The main gaming hall, with a large stylish bar, is where the live table games are played. Glass walls separate the main hall from the poker area on the one side, and the slots area on the other side. The tall ceilings with wood panels, elegant chandeliers and the beautiful bar with lots of glass and wood and the tasteful red-carpet, together create an especially elegant look. It is altogether an impressive establishment.
Austrians tend to say that Innsbruck is not a ski resort despite the fact that it has hosted the Winter Olympics and the first Youth Winter Olympics. 500 kilometers (310 miles) of trails link 25 surrounding ski resorts, all connected by a free ski bus.If that isn’t a ski resort, what is? It has the advantage for gamblers that it has a bigger casino than the high mountain resorts. It is divided into Classic and Jackpot Casinos with over 200 slot machines.
There are only five casinos in Italy, two are in Venice and none are permitted in any Italian ski resort.