International Gaming: How to Beat the Odds

Before you hit the casino, learn the house rules, written and unwritten

When Daniel Craig walks up to the Texas hold ’em table in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, he’s wearing a perfectly tailored tux and the confidence of a man who knows his way around card tables from Monte Carlo to Macau to Montenegro, where the film is set. 

But unless you’re running a meeting of MI-6 agents in town to discuss the alarmingly high number of sports cars destroyed while on assignment, your attendees may not know what to expect when walking into a casino an ocean or two away from Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and the Gulf Coast. While the lack of a tuxedo won’t get them barred from the tables anymore—it takes a tank top and flip-flops to do that in casinos nowadays, and that only in some—there are regulations and rules of etiquette. Not following them can result in closed doors or uncomfortable attendees. 

Across the board, many countries require identification to enter a casino, and enough specify a passport to make it worth bringing. And the rules of table games can vary by destination, as roulette players will learn in Monaco, notes Cindy Hoddeson, the Monaco Government Tourist Office’s director of meeting and incentive sales. 

Whether you’re organizing an event in a casino or hotel with gambling, or just want to advise attendees who might hit the tables on their own, here’s a look at how the rules and culture of gambling in meeting destinations around the world differ—or don’t—from our own. 

“In Europe, there is a generally negative view of casinos,” says Padraic Gilligan, managing director of Dublin-based Ovation Global DMC, with offices or partner destination management companies in more than 90 destinations throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. “In Las Vegas to get to your room, you have to walk through acres of slot machines. In Europe, the casino is not front and center.” 

In France, where the vast majority of casinos are owned by Lucien Barriere Hotel & Casinos, gambling is not allowed in major cities, says Susan Holt, managing director of Holt Paris, part of the Euromic DMC partnership. By tradition, casinos are usually in thermal spa towns. While generally close by, the company’s casinos tend to be “in a different building, not in the hotel or conference center,” says Pascal Visintainer, Barriere’s vice president of global sales. That applies also in Austria, where Casinos Austria holds the monopoly. Styles range from the private clubs of London (although membership/entrance fees went out years ago) to golden age palaces like the 112-year-old Casino Barriere du Deauville, Casinos Austria’s Salzburg property in Kleissheim Castle, and Charles Garnier’s Belle Epoque masterpiece Casino de Monte Carlo, which cohabits with the principality’s operahouse and charges a 10 Euro entrance fee to avoid being overrun by tourists.

“Another major distinction is that alcohol is not served free while you’re gambling,” says Cathleen Williams, director of sales, North America, of Monte-Carlo SBM Hotels, which has Monaco’s casino monopoly. “That is a cultural approach. Gaming is viewed as a hobby, but also something quite serious. The idea that you would be drinking and playing with your money doesn’t quite resonate.” Casinos Austria is required to register all guests and track their spending across properties, cutting off players who spend more than they can afford, says Martin Himmelbauer, the firm’s head of corporate communications. The company’s slot machines are made in America, so they should be familiar to state-side gamers, he says. 

Forty years ago “no one would have dared step in without black tie,” Himmelbauer adds, but today only one of their properties requires jackets, and it rents them. At Monaco’s four casinos (five in the summer), “the croupiers are very formal and dressed in tuxedos,” says Williams. But for guests, even the “Casino de Monte Carlo allows jeans now, although no shorts or flip-flops.” The same applies in France, Visintainer says.

The Caribbean
Many of the large Caribbean resorts have casinos, and unsurprisingly, dress codes are looser and drinks more plentiful than in Europe. The term “Vegas-style” comes up a lot.  That said, Caribbean approaches range from welcoming (most), to tourists-only (the Bahamas, where they are only in resorts), to banned outright (Bermuda). And Jamaica only legalized casinos in 2010.

Among the biggest is Atlantis Casino at Atlantis, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas, with 90 tables and 850 slots. It has an extravagant Temple of the Sun and Moon theme. While proper dress is required there, its smaller open-air sibling, Cain at The Cove, is next to an adults-only pool, and has live DJs and beachside cabanas as well as daytime table games where flip-flops and bikinis are welcomed.

Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau
While Hong Kong is still gaming-free, neighboring Macau is by far the biggest gambling destination in the world by revenue, and it is decidedly boisterous. With resort casinos by American companies like MGM, the Las Vegas experience includes the Wynn Macau’s iconic exterior and the Venetian Macau’s canal and requisite Cirque du Soleil show, Zaia. “There is an obvious presence of gaming machines and tables,” Gilligan says. 

In Singapore, where gambling was only legalized last year and locals must by law pay a $100 daily fee to gamble in the two casinos (and can be barred by their families), Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, the casinos are not as front-and-center—which makes sense, as locals also must use a separate entrance. But a Lion King production and Daniel Boulud restaurant at the Sands, and the Universal Studios Singapore theme park at Sentosa lend these properties a familiar air. Like in much of the world, flip-flops and shorts are the bane of Singapore’s casinos.

South Africa
“All major metropolitan areas have full-service casinos supported by a large network of nightlife and activities, with full-fledged Vegas-type offerings,” says Laura Saeger, business tourism manager USA for South African Tourism. The larger resorts have three- to five-star hotels, restaurants, shops, spas, and attract internationally known shows, including of course, Disney’s The Lion King. “As in Vegas, there is really no dress code in casinos unless you are in a private room.”