Backlash in Paris as Chinatown ‘gaming club’ prepares to open

  • Casinos have been banned in Paris since 1920
  • New law allows ‘gaming clubs’ to open for initial three-year trial period
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 8:51am

When the Imperial Club opens its doors in Paris next month, there should be little doubt about who is welcome to gamble there.

The gaming club will open in a shopping centre in the French capital’s 13th district, home to one of the city’s two Chinatowns.

It will offer up to 20 games tables in the 9,700 sq ft venue, taking bets seven days a week, 2pm to 6am.

And in an apparent nod to Asian clientele, the club’s promotional artwork features the Chinese character for “treasure”.

But don’t call Imperial Club a casino.

Casinos have been banned in Paris since 1920, even though they exist elsewhere in France. However under a law change earlier this year, clubs de jeux or “gaming clubs”, have been allowed to start operating for an initial three-year trial period, under strict conditions.

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These clubs can offer only table card games, excluding blackjack. Slot machines are not allowed.

The experimental move is part of a government strategy to loosen betting regulations and put a squeeze on the underground gambling dens that have flourished in Paris.

The Imperial Club will be the second gaming venue to open in the city after the launch of Paris Elysées Club by French casino group Tranchant in April. A third club is reportedly planned in early 2019.

“The singularity of the Imperial Club is that it is located in an area with a high density population, in the heart of Chinatown,” said Julien Tissot, a poker fan and journalist who runs the website, Les Club de Jeux Parisiens (Paris Gaming Clubs).

“The owner is betting on the propensity of the Chinese to play games such as Punto Banco and Poker 21.”

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The Raineau Group, which owns Imperial Club, runs three casinos in France and several establishments overseas.

“We wanted to position ourselves in a part of Paris different to our competition,” said the group’s chairman and club owner, Olivier Raineau.

Imperial Club hopes to lure 150,000 players a year, according to a recent Facebook post by the company.

But those plans don’t sit comfortably with vocal members of the local French-Chinese community who complain there was no consultation about the government’s approval for the club.

“Residents of Paris 13e are angry and oppose the location of a games room within a stone’s throw of dozens of schools and residences,” said Sun-Lay Tan, a spokesperson for the group Securite Pour Tous (Safety for All).

“It will lead to an upsurge of social violence which is already a daily occurrence in this neglected neighbourhood.

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“It won’t bring anything other than delinquency. Restaurants and all the other local businesses won’t benefit at all because the club will be open from the evening until very early in the morning.”

Opponents also argue the club could encourage illegal betting in public spaces, such as the gardens of Villa d’Este, a residential area near the venue.

A man who said he was a spokesperson for several community groups called the club a “threat to neighbourhood peace”.

“Gambling is OK for tourists on the [French Riveria], but not the right business here,” Huaijie Su said.

Concerned residents have received support from the local Socialist Party mayor Jerome Coumet, who said he was looking at “all possible remedies”.

They have also appealed to France’s Interior Ministry and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

A community petition launched in October has about 3,600 signatures, according to a recent tally.

“An authorisation for this gambling establishment in the heart of the residential zone was issued by the Interior Ministry without any consultation with local authorities,” the petition states.

“Our residential neighbourhood does not want to be seen as a place of debauchery seething with prostitution, gambling and narcotic sales.”

There was no evidence that Imperial Club would have such adverse impacts on the local community.

Raineau likened opposition to the club as “cliché” and said his guests would be able to “satisfy their desire to play in optimal security conditions”.

But opponents were unconvinced.

“It’s the [Imperial Club’s] marketing which is totally cliché,” Huaijie Su said.

Securite Pour Tous said in a recent tweet: “[The owner] is betting on Chinatown for his players and the often immoderate taste of the Asian community for gambling.”