EPT Paris: A Brief History of Poker and Gambling in the Capital
You might not know, but there are no casinos in Paris!
Instead, you can show off your poker skills or have fun with table games at one of the French capital’s gaming clubs. With the first European Poker Tour Paris in history just around the corner, let’s take a look at the relationship between Paris and gambling.
The turbulent arrival of gambling in Paris
The French have always been gamblers and in the early 16th century, lotteries could be found throughout the French states. They were so successful that they were even banned in Paris in 1598 and 1661, only to return in 1700 following the creation of a national lottery. It was, officially at least, the only game allowed in the capital. Unofficially, clandestine gambling houses were still “the place to be” and all the high aristocracy mixed there.
The closest game to poker at the time is thought to have been poque, which spread to France in the 17th century. Poque was based on a 16th-century Spanish game, primero, in which each player was dealt three cards and bluffing was a key element of the game.
The appeal of the game grew further following the French Revolution and by the end of the 19th century many ‘cercles’, modelled on the English gambling clubs, had sprung up in Paris and in the seaside resorts frequented by the bourgeoisie.
It was not until the 20th century, in 1907, that the state resigned itself to legalising gambling activities in France in an attempt to keep control. Poker and table games first appeared in casinos in seaside resorts, then in 1923 in private circles, but still not in Paris! For fear of creating public disorder in the capital, the State banned all casinos within a 100-kilometre radius, with the exception of the spa town of Enghien-les-Bains.
“Ginormous” PCA Sets the Tone for 2023 Ahead of EPT Paris says Walsh
The rise of poker and gambling in Paris and then its sudden end in the 2000s
In order to fight against illegal gambling, the Ministry of the Interior eventually changed its mind and granted special dispensations authorising a few gaming circles. This was the beginning of the golden age of gambling in Paris. At the end of the Second World War, the French rediscovered their love for gambling and in the 20th century there were a good dozen “cercles” in Paris; Aviation Club de France, Cercle Haussmann, Cercle Wagram, Cercle Anglais, Cercle Clichy-Montmartre, l’Industrie, Cercle Gaillon and so on…to name only the most famous.
What could you play? At first, there were the traditional table games and games against the bank, but no poker or games such as blackjack, roulette or slot machines, as games of pure chance were forbidden. The historic ACF was the first gaming club to open a poker room in France in 1995. Three years later, the first Grand Prix de Paris was organised, bringing together poker players from around the world.
But this truce with the government did not last long. These establishments were run as associations under the French law of 1901, officially non-profit, which ended up being a problem. Faced with the opaque accounting of some circles, the State began to fight against these places in the 2000s.
As a result of increasingly stringent regulations, the circles closed their doors one after the other. The Cercle Clichy Montmartre was the last establishment to close its doors in autumn 2018, sounding the end, temporarily, of the long history of Parisian gaming circles.
January 1, 2018: the return of gambling in Paris
Farewell to the gaming cercles, hello to the gaming clubs! In 2018, the State authorises the reopening of gambling establishments in Paris under certain conditions and on an experimental basis. Instead of “cercles”, they will now be gambling clubs, organised under a commercial company system with an auditor.
Seven establishments opened their doors:
- The Paris Élysées Club
- The Club Berri
- The Club Barrière
- The Club JOA Royale
- The Club Montmartre
- The Club Circus Paris
- The Imperial Club
In July 2020, the Club Pierre Charron also opened. A stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées they offer cash game tables and several table games such as Poker 21, Baccarat or Punto Banco but still no slot machines, blackjack or roulette.
Poker tournaments returned to the capital in small steps with a few small events in 2019, then in 2020, no less than 10 festivals were organised before the covid pandemic hit the world.
The government gives the green light for table games to reopen in Paris in June 2021. And now since November 2022, four new games are authorised in Parisian establishments, Black Jack, Craps, Sic-bo (a dice game of Chinese origin) and Bingo.
Finally, after the grand return to Paris of the World Poker Tour in 2023, which has been taking place since 22 January and until 5 February at the Club Circus Paris, it was PokerStars who announced last December that the very first European Poker Tour would be held in the capital from 15 to 26 February. The festival will be held at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, in partnership with Le Club Barrière Paris, which is housed at the iconic 104 Avenue des Champs-Elysées.