Casinos in Barcelona, Zurich, and Liechtenstein
In March of 2018, I took a two-week trip to Barcelona, Zurich, and Paris. At every location, I tried to visit at least one casino. To avoid repeating myself, let me mention some commonalities to many European casinos. There are separate rooms or floors for smoking and non-smoking. At most casinos, the beverage policy seems to be that bar prices are charged for drinks with alcohol or out of a bottle. Simple drinks like coffee, tea, and soft drinks can go either way, depending on the casino.
Blackjack rules are pretty standard throughout Europe, as follows:
- Six decks on a continuous shuffler.
- Dealer stands on soft 17.
- Dealer does not take a hole card. If player doubles or splits and dealer gets a blackjack, then the player loses everything.
- Blackjack pays 3 to 2.
- Player may double on any two cards.
- Double after split allowed.
- Surrender not allowed.
- Player may re-split any pair, including aces, up to four hands.
Roulette is played on a single-zero wheel. Usually even money bets will lose half only if the ball lands in zero, but I've seen it where the player loses the entire bet too. Many casinos offer "American roulette," which is the same thing but with the standard American layout. I could take a jab at them about the misnomer, as American roulette generally has two zeros, but I applaud them for still offering players a better value with the European rules.
Following are some specific comments on the four casinos I visited.
Barcelona has one casino, and it's near the beach. It is close to a pair of tall box-shaped buildings that I think are the tallest buildings in the city, so it shouldn't be difficult to find.
The inside of the casino was typical of a casino with a monopoly in a major city — a place to gamble and not much else. The evening I visited it was crowded, yet still quiet and low-energy. Available to players were plenty of slots, table games, a large poker room, and a kiosk for sports betting. Here is my count of the table games:
- Blackjack: 15
- Roulette: 11
- Three Card Poker/Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em combination: 5
- Caribbean Stud Poker: 3
- Baccarat: 1
- Poker: Approximately 30
Many of the tables were I-tables, which have a live dealer and cards but fully electronic chips. There is a touchscreen for every player to choose his bet and how to play his cards. I find this method of gambling to be half way between live gaming and a slot machine. Speaking for myself only, I prefer the touch and feel of chips. I'm sure I-tables result in more hands per hour for the casino and zero payment errors. As I recall, the blackjack minimum was 10€ at the I-tables and 25€ at the normal tables with real chips.
The Three Card Poker/Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em tables were all i-tables. The felt indicated the pay tables for both games. The minimum bet in Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em was 2€ on both the Ante and Blind.
Stadium-style baccarat was available. The touchscreens indicated that in additional to the usual bets they offered side bets on the Egalities and the Royal Match. The Egalities followed the usual pay table, as follows:
Egalities — Casino Barcelona
I took some discrete pictures of the odds available on the sports betting kiosk. Considering it was automated, the odds varied considerably from one game to another. Here is what I observed about betting on soccer (or football for my European readers) based on a sampling of five games for each bet.
- Team to win or tie: House edge ranged from 5.72% to 9.42%, with an average of 8.51%.
- Team to score first goal or scoreless game: House edge ranged from 10.98% to 11.90%, with an average of 11.26%.
- Over/under total goals: House edge ranged from 5.72% to 9.72%, with an average of 7.37%.
My own experience playing consisted of about half an hour each on blackjack and Ultimate Texas Hold 'Me. Both were played on I-Tables. No interaction at all with the dealer or other players. Everyone just sat there and played. However, in Ultimate Texas Hold 'Me, players often showed each other their cards, to which the dealer said nothing.
The admiral casino is located in what looks like an industrial part of northern Liechtenstein. Although the country seems microscopic on a globe, it is still about 25 kilometers north to south. The casino is located about 15 kilometers north of the primary city, Vaduz. Unless you need an auto part, or something like that, I can't think of any other reason to visit the northern tip of Liechtenstein. In all fairness, the casino manager on duty at the time said they were planning to relocate to a larger facility. I forgot to ask if it would be better located.
The casino is divided between smoking and non-smoking rooms, separated by a glass wall. The smoking half was slots only and the non-smoking half was mostly table games with some slots along the wall. Both halves were quite small. As I recall, the table game side had about six tables.
The Swiss frank is the national currency of Liechtenstein as well as the casino. They have a policy where if you convert Euros to Franks to play table games, you can convert back at the same rate when you are done playing. The machines do not have this policy. As I recall, the machines accept both Franks and Euros but will will convert Euros to Franks at whatever rate they choose. When you cash out, you will be paid in Franks. I welcome correction if this is in error.
The blackjack and roulette rules were standard for Europe. The blackjack tables offered three side bets:
- Colored player blackjack in first two cards. Pays 19 to 1. House edge of 52.51% (ouch!).
- Suited player blackjack in first two cards. Pays 77 to 1. House edge of 7.40%.
- Dealer busts. Pays 5 to 2. House edge of 1.33%.
Quite a range in house edge there. I commented on it to the casino manager on duty, who spoke English, but he didn't say anything back. That lack of a response I've seen many times before in pointing out ridiculous rules to casino management.
I wandered into the casino in the early afternoon on a Saturday and the casino was nearly empty. I would estimate about a half dozen slot players. The table games were not open. They open in the evening but I don't recall at exactly what time.
As long as I was in Liechtenstein, there was no question that I would have to cross the border into Austria to cross another country off my list. My friend Stephen was very kind in humoring this request and drove me to the nearby western-Austrian town of Brengenz, which lies along a scenic lake and is big enough to have a casino.
This was a fairly big casino, especially compared to the size of the town. It was two floors, one smoking and one non-smoking. Both floors had a mix of machines and table games. As a general rule, players must pay bar prices for all drinks, including non-alcoholic.
The dress code requires a collared shirt and a jacket for men. I had the collared shirt and they were kind enough to waive the €5.2 rental fee for the jacket since I was a new player.
Many European casinos charge a membership fee for new players, which they reimburse the player for in the form of non-negotiable chips (the use until you lose type). However, the Casino Bregenz charges a €27 fee every visit but it is always reimbursed with €30 in non-negotiable chips or slot play. You didn't hear this from me, but the slot play is fully cashable -- just put in the voucher and hit "cash out," no bet required.
The casino offered the following table games:
- Roulette — Single-zero. Players lose all on even money bets when the ball lands in zero.
- Classic Blackjack — Usual European rules (see above). I spotted a new side bet called the C3 with a house edge of 10.86%.
- Vegas Blackjack — Same as Classic Blackjack, except blackjack paid 6 to 5.
- Blackjack Party, the worst blackjack variant I've ever seen, in terms of the odds. House edge of 8.04%.
- Easy Hold 'Em — This was the same thing as Texas Hold 'Em Bonus. I spotted another new side bet called the C5, which I added to that page. The house edge of the C5 is 8.95%.
- Tropical Stud Poker — Same thing as Caribbean Stud Poker.
- Blackjack Exchange — Same thing as Blackjack Switch with a C4 side bet added, which carries a house edge of 14.32%.
They probably offer baccarat, too, but I forgot to make a note of it.
When I visit a casino in a foreign country, I can be a huge pain to the casino staff and management with all my questions. In this case, my friend Stephen, who speaks German, was a great sidekick at torturing the staff. He helped me as a translator and had a good sense for things I would find interesting to ask about. Stephen was very astute in noticing the table felt for Easy Hold 'Em said that a straight or better was required to win the Ante bet (the Las Vegas rule), but the rule booklet said that a flush was required (the Atlantic City rule). When we brought this to the casino manager's attention, he evidently wasn't aware of the contradiction, but said that the stingier felt rule was correct and that the rule booklet was outdated. He also incorrectly argued that the game was actually a better value for the player because at the same time they switched to the stingy Atlantic City they added the C5 side bet, which carries an 8.95% house edge. I don't understand how you can make two rule changes that both make it a worse game for the player and conclude it is better for players. It seemed the same kind of logic, adding negative numbers to get a positive one, that betting system players firmly believe in.
After questioning about this and other topics, I thought he found me about as annoying as women find me when I torture them mercilessly with trivia questions, which is usually the only thing I can find to talk to them about. However, surprisingly, the casino manager asked us if we wanted a drink. I think one of my many lines of questioning was about the drink policy, to which he said players must pay for every drink, alcoholic or not. You don't have to twist my arm very hard to have a free drink, so I asked for a vodka and tonic. Someone was summoned and the next thing I knew a man in a nice suit placed a small table next to me and poured my drink, consisting of what looked like high-end vodka and an unopened bottle of tonic water. My theory was he may have realized who I was but Stephen thought I might have been a secret shopper and he was trying to smooth over the contradiction I caught them on in Easy Hold 'Em. Whatever the case, it was a happy ending to the story.
You would think a city as wealthy as Zurich would have an opulent casino, but the Casino Zurich is nothing special. The Sunday afternoon I visited the casino was quiet with only a handful of players. Most of the casino, including almost all table games were, unfortunately for me, in the smoking section. No drink service that I saw. If you wanted one, you had to buy it at the bar.The games offered were:
- Blackjack with the usual European rules. Side bets offered were the Zurich progressive (my title), bust, and the Swiss Casinos Jack.
- Roulette with a single zero and half back on even money bets if the ball lands in zero.
- Diceball, which I was told was seldom open.
I think they had baccarat, too, but my notes on this casino are not very complete.
I played blackjack for about an hour. It was an uneventful sitting. No conversation at all with the dealer but a little towards the end with another player who asked for my advice a few times. I advised him correctly, but he lost every time. After that little bad run he quit asking.
Despite a lot of searching, I failed at finding a casino in Paris. Most sites had a list of several with a notation of "closed" by most entries. One that every site indicated was still open was the Cercle Central, located near the Moulin Rouge at 2 Rue Frochot.
After the Moulin Rouge show, which is spectacular and much better than any topless show I've seen in Las Vegas, I attempted to pay this casino a visit but it had obviously been long since closed too.
Strange that the third most visited city in the world (source: Forbes) wouldn't have an easy to find casino. Then again, maybe there is so much else to do, and casinos so easy to find almost everywhere on earth, people have better things to do in Paris.