Monte Carlo, Monaco

By Eric Gaillard

Almost nine months after my initial request to photograph inside the Monte Carlo Casino, the gold-leaf backdrop for fictional British spy James Bond in “Casino Royale”, I was contacted for an interview to present my project and three months later received news that is was accepted.

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Perched above the Mediterranean Sea to the east of the French Riviera, Monaco is synonymous with the glamour brought by Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, whose marriage made her Princess Grace, the roar of Formula 1 motor racing cars in the streets of the principality, luxury shops and its famous Casino, where gamblers win or lose at the turn of the roulette wheel, the luck of the cards at the blackjack tables, or with the one-armed bandits.

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

During the Casino’s off hours, I entered a world unto itself, meeting craftsman in their workshops and employees who maintain the Belle Epoque rooms, restaurant and bar for the players. What a shock to see gambling chips and plates worth 200,000 euros displayed in a row on a gaming table of green baize. I met the doormen, parking valets, card dealers, electromechanical engineers, technicians, salon cleaners, waiters, the head chef, barmen, cashiers, a physionomist, cabinetmakers and croupiers who together form this often invisible staff who work with precision and professionalism to give the Monte Carlo Casino its worldwide reputation for excellence.

The Casino operates from two o’clock in the afternoon until six a.m. the next morning. I was given access to photograph only during off hours as the casino prepares for opening later in the day. I arrived at seven-thirty to watch as specialized mechanics worked on slot machines in the luxurious Salle Europe, Monaco’s first gambling parlour inaugurated on January 1st 1865. During the three-days of shooting, I was escorted from one room to another, to photograph the professionals who contribute to crafting a unique experience for each and every guest.

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

I was surprised by the lavishly decorated interior, and greeted by the sound of vacuum cleaners as valets cleaned the gaming tables, removing dust and bits of foreign matter that might compromise gambling results. I quickly realize how privileged I am to witness this private world with its codes and particularities. Two flights down, I entered the currency exchange room – ‘Photography Forbidden’ – but am allowed to watch as suitcases with chips and metal plates, the highest valued at 200,000€ (276,400 $US), are prepared. I was at a loss for words.