Casinos and cigars: a winning combination
A Cuban cigar is often enjoyed in a glamorous setting, and few settings are more glamorous than a high-end casino. Whether we find ourselves in Montenegro or Monte Carlo, Las Vegas or Macau, the gambling world is one of luxury and opulence. Some of the most beautiful – and biggest – structures in the world are devoted to gambling, and the vast majority are very cigar-friendly. From the classic baroque palaces of Europe to the ultra-modern behemoths of east Asia, there is a casino somewhere to suit every taste.
Even though they provide such comfort and luxury casinos can be intimidating for the uninitiated, especially at the top of the market. The fast pace of the games, the complexity of some of the tables and the potential for big spending in a small space of time, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, is enough to keep many people from even crossing the threshold. The reality is that these are welcoming places, not closed off to the degree that many expect, and usually home to hidden gems in terms of places to eat, drink and, of course, smoke. I spent most of my adult life working in the casino industry, eventually running the busiest gaming floor in Europe, so here are some tips to help you feel at home, and some of my favourite casinos from around the world.
Smoking while playing Baccarat at Les Ambassadeurs, London
Know your limits
It is impossible to place too high a premium on self-control within casinos. It is true there are no clocks and very little daylight; it is a myth that oxygen is pumped in to make people feel artificially alert and euphoric. The transfer of cash into chips serves 2 purposes: the first is to make it easier for the croupier to identify and handle individual players’ wagers, the second is to devalue them. A pile of notes feels intrinsically valuable to most people; a stack of plastic chips does not. Set your budget before you go in and stick to it ruthlessly. This will preclude the majority of us from visiting certain clubs in Mayfair in London, and certain areas of all other clubs around the world, but will never mean we cannot find anywhere to play. This is the Golden Rule, never to be broken.
If in doubt, ask!
Casino games can look incredibly complex, and some of them are. If it’s your first time playing at all, or you are unfamiliar with a certain table, ask staff for a lesson. The business is there to accept bets – no one is born with the knowledge of how to play, so rather than adopt a snobbish attitude towards the novice gamer, casino staff will be delighted to give you pointers. If a table is busy then the dealer is probably not the person to ask, nor their Inspector (table supervisor) as they will be concentrating on the chips being laid and the customers placing them. Locate the Pit Boss or approach a quiet table and they will tell you all you need to know.
Take the loyalty card
All casinos will offer a loyalty or membership scheme. These are often met with scepticism by players, for an enormous range of reasons including (but far from limited to) “they want to track my numbers so I lose”. The truth is that loyalty schemes are the way casinos make sure their players are being rewarded properly. The information requested to join may seem intrusive – copy of government ID, full address and details of occupation – but the regulations in most jurisdictions mean you will have to give this information sooner or later, so best to get it over with. Once you have the card, hand it over whenever you join a table. “Unlimited free booze while we’re at the table” is another very common casino myth; complimentary food and beverage is entirely discretionary and the majority of places will use your loyalty card to issue it.
They ask everyone those questions
There is a fair chance that you will be asked by casino management to prove your identity and your occupation, depending on your level of play. More and more regulators around the world have put tight controls in place to stop casinos being sites for easy money laundering and the source of damaging addictions for their guests. If you’re asked to provide details of your employment or business, it’s nothing personal. You are not suspected of any wrongdoing, nor are you being singled out for any reason. This is, for better or worse, the way of the world now, so don’t be worried about why such unusual questions are being put to you. The same thing happens to all the good customers.
There are very few nations left where gambling is completely forbidden, so the choice available to us for where to play is excellent. Most will be very welcoming to cigar smokers – high-end players tend to have high-end hobbies – so preparations have been made. Here are a few of my favourites.
The Rooftop Terrace at The Hippodrome Casino, London
The Hippodrome Casino, London
I’m biased, because I spent many happy years there, but the 3-tier smoking terrace at The Hippodrome offers lots of tables and machines where a cigar can be enjoyed, and with very accessible minimum bets. Elsewhere in London, Les Ambassadeurs has an exceptional cigar garden, but stakes are much higher there and membership can be hard to come by. For ease of access alone, The Hippodrome wins.
The stylish Dorsey Cocktail Bar in Las Vegas
The Venetian, Las Vegas
Most Vegas properties will allow smoking anywhere on the gaming floor, with the exception of a few non-smoking tables to give players and dealers a choice. For me the MGM Grand is the luckiest gaming floor, but The Dorsey Cocktail Bar at The Venetian is the most comfortable place to have a smoke after playing. Both these properties are on The Strip; downtown on Fremont Street is cheaper and closer to the ‘wild’ Las Vegas of legend. Try Circa Resort & Casino, if only to see the sports screen by the pool. It’s enormous.
Casino Café de Paris, Monte Carlo
Less famous than its neighbour across the street, but the terrace on Casino Square is a fine place to sit and smoke after a session and they also have a smaller outdoor area downstairs which has gaming tables available. The climate of the Côte d'Azur makes this an ideal place to combine cards with Cohibas anytime of the day or night. Just don’t get carried away…