The attitude of the authorities in France has always been ambivalent as far as casinos are concerned. The French penal code outlaws gambling, but then special exceptions are allowed. For a long time, French casinos were the most splendid in Europe, but by 1987 they were becoming decrepit and were unable to modernize because of very strict regulations.  Until that year they were not permitted to have machine gambling. They were doomed to go under. The French casinos’ contribution to total earnings from gambling (2%) was derisory compared to that of German casinos (9%). France took first place in Europe in terms of its total number of casinos, but only sixth place in casino revenues. Casino earnings per resident were less than one-half the earnings of casinos in the Netherlands, three times less than in Germany and the United Kingdom, and six times less than in Spain. While casino revenues in all other European countries were doubling in the early years of the decade the revenues in French casinos were falling. The other countries permitted casinos to have slot machines.
The discussions in the National Assembly in 1987 were quite animated, but in the end economic interests won the day, given that around 10,000 jobs in casinos were at stake, as well as considerable tax revenues both for the state and, more important still, for those municipalities that possessed a casino. Among the political parties, those on the right voted for the authorization of slot machines, and the interior minister, Charles Pasqua, signed the decree in 1987, just before leaving the government. Pierre Jox, who took over from him in a government of the left, imposed a limit of sixteen, however, on the number of casinos that were permitted to have machines. There were 138 casinos.
The appearance of the machines marked a decisive turnaround point for these casinos. It gave them a new lease on life. The changes were profound for the manner in which the casinos operated and for their clientele. Although the machines were confined to only a small number of the casinos, the overall casino revenues increased almost 60% in one year. Pressure on the government mounted accordingly, and in 1991 all the other casinos – then only 83 in number – were allowed machines. Today there are 150 casinos.
Numerous changes have taken place in the world of the casino since the advent of machines. The decor of the casinos has changed as have opening hours, the ages of players, the amounts of money wagered, and the winnings. The access to the slot machine rooms in the casinos is free, whereas the traditional games areas required admission charges, typically fifty French francs. The slot areas may be entered without showing identification cards, except to demonstrate that one is at least eighteen years old. Some casinos had operated only seasonally before; now all are open around the year, and they are now open for extended hours. Dress codes have changed, and in some cases they have been eliminated. The gambling rooms no longer require that players remain subdued and quiet even when engaged in large winning or losing experiences. Neon lights have invaded the gambling space as well, along with the sounds of changing coins. Slot rooms have even introduced rock music.
As a result the French casinos are pulling in more people than they used to. At peak periods players have to wait to get at the machines. Players can engage in activity with a minimum of resources – one franc for a play – compared to high minimum bets at table games. The possibilities of big wins are more apparent as well, as machines have linked jackpots. The socioeconomic makeup of players has changed, as casinos are no longer the private reserve of the affluent. Casinos have become increasingly popular, with the largest ones receiving as many as 10,000 people a week, where before a crowd of several hundred on any evening would be considered large. The new clientele is not only more numerous but also more representative of the society as a whole. Women have also begun to make their appearance in the casinos, providing 30% of the business, whereas before 1987, they were a minuscule portion of the patronage. Immigrants now flock to the casinos as well, as do older people.
In the final analysis the casino operators have been quite pleased at seeing large numbers of small stakes players instead of small numbers of high rollers. The machines represent over 80% of the casino play, and the casino establishments are realizing profits unimagined but a dozen years ago.

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