THE GREAT NATIONAL CASINO

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Although the collection of chips issued by the Grand National Casino is not very large, we have dedicated it a page of its own due to its importance within the history of Cuban casinos. This centre appeared in the 1920’s and was for over thirty years the only important one truly authorized to operate games of chance in the country.

Its name inspired trust, and it was built meeting all the requirements to compete with the best of its kind in the world. It was known as America’s Montecarlo and a common destination for American tourists visiting Havana in winter season for a long time, until halfway through the fifties. By that time, Batista’s seizing power brought about a new period during which the policy restricting gambling that had prevailed up to that moment was eased. This resulted in the emergence of several centres alike that did best, and caused its disappearance.

Regarding our subject of interest, due to the period in which it emerged and the seriousness with which it was ran, the chips it issued, though limited, are of great interest due to their age, high values, singular design and superb manufacture. This is the only Cuban casino that issued chips with a serial number to avoid forgery or confusion.

Now let’s see a bit about its history and operations:

This casino was part of a great investment by the "Compañía Urbanizadora del Parque y Playa de Marianao", made up by important figures of the time with great influence in the ruling government. The most outstanding were Manuel de la Cruz, former Estrada Palma’s secretary and president of the National Board for Tourism Promotion, José Manuel Cortina, congressman and rich businessman, owner of the Cortina Ranch and several other estates, Carlos Miguel de Céspedes, José Gómez Mena, among others.

Due to the great tourist and housing possibilities of Havana’s west coastline area and its insalubrious conditions, covered by mangrove swamp and waste land, this company was granted the concession by Marianao’s Town Hall that allowed it to buy between January 1917 and March 1919 plots of land at a cost of around eight hundred thousand pesos, and later urbanize the area by parcelling up, building roads, sewer systems, etc. at a cost of over two million pesos.

In return, in addition to the possibility of selling lots that soon reached high prices, the company was granted permission to set up and operate several kinds of shows and amusement centres such as theatres, movie houses, racecourses, games of chance, roller coasts, yacht marinas, etc. That is to say, that the idea was to turn the west coastline area, known as “the beach”, into a tourist conglomerate that could compete with great European beaches for the quality of its facilities.

A detailed explanation of this matter is clearly stated in a brochure published in 1948 by “Sindicato Territorial de la Habana” (Havana’s Territorial Union), heir company of the "Compañía Urbanizadora del Parque y Playa de Marianao", due to the lawsuit that was brought against the municipal authorities resulting from disagreements regarding the interpretation of the concession that emerged after the thirty-year period was due. Several of its pages will be included in our gallery because they are very interesting despite of the fact that they cover a broader subject than that of the casino, which is this page’s subject matter.

Another important fact that derived from this matter was the enactment of the so-called “Tourist Act of August 8th 1919”, that signed by the president of the Republic Mario García Menocal stated in its first article, “After the enactment of this Law, skill, strength, or dexterity shows involving mutual or any other kind of bets cannot be practiced other than by meeting the conditions and requirements expressed hereafter:”. This law made official the norms which determined such activities during the republican decades, regulating the operation of the controversial “games of chance” in a way that would somehow soothe the protests of certain sectors of the population that opposed them and at the same time meet the powerful investors’ objectives.

The Grand National Casino, limited by this law to function during the so-called winter season, from December through March each year, was officially inaugurated in early 1922. Over the years, it became a mandatory place for tourists interested in games of chance and good musical shows and good cuisine, factors that contributed to a great sector of the local bourgeoisie also visiting the place. The building used for such purpose was the former “Casino de la Playa” (Beach Casino), located near the coast and neighbouring the “Habana Yacht Club”, that had been refurbished in order to adapt it to the activity’s needs, equipping it with a big driveway at the front, large terraces and luxurious rooms. In addition, the famous “Fountain of the Muses” was incorporated. It had been commissioned specifically to decorate its gardens, and as time went by became the symbol of gambling in the country.

However, in the late 1920’s a new building was specifically designed to house a casino, located further from the coast, on the land of the new Country Club, with several separate rooms, some for gambling and other for shows and restaurants. The original fountain was also moved there and placed this time on a beautiful artificial lake built for such purpose. This new establishment’s views and premises repeat the most in countless postcards, advertisements, etc. of the time.

Already in 1953, due to the competition represented by Tropicana, Sans Souci, Montmartre, etc., their big shows attracting most potential costumers, the Grand National Casino began facing various difficulties, the greatest being the loss it began making. As a result, it was demolished in order to use the land as part of a new golf course that would be operated by the Country Club. Even after the building had disappeared, the National Casino remained as guiding centre of gambling in the country. So, there’s a large number of contracts, croupiers’ files, and documents alike showing its registered name as heading.

Very much related to this casino’s history is the “Summer Casino”. Although we have found several advertisements and reference to this establishment, we have never seen a chip with its name on it. The most commonly held version is that it was actually ran by the same company, operating during the months when the Grand Casino was closed and even using the same funds to cover the so-called summer season. It rather aimed at local costumers.

It is important to stress that the fact that the Grand National Casino has existed with authorization from the government derived in a great deal of reference to it in the media of the time, which has allowed us to make up a large gallery of images that can be seen following its chips. Postcards, photos, press articles, advertisements, etc. are abundant; all being of great help to those interested in this emblematic casino’s history. They are listed as follows:

No. -- Description -- Color

A-01 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $1. Set “Casino Nacional”, in bakelite -- Red

A-02 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $5. Set “Casino Nacional”, in bakelite -- Wine red

A-03 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $10. Set “Casino Nacional”, in bakelite -- Orange

A-04 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $50. Set “Casino Nacional”, in bakelite -- Brown

A-05 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $100. Set “Casino Nacional”, in bakelite -- Mustard

A-06 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $500. Set “Casino Nacional”, in bakelite -- Black
   

B-01 -- Obverse: chip value 5. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-01r -- Reverse: chip value 5. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-02 -- Obverse: chip value 20. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-02r -- Reverse: chip value 20. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-03 -- Obverse: chip value 25. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-03r -- Reverse: chip value 25. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-04 -- Obverse: chip value 50. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Red

B-04r -- Reverse: chip value 50. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Red

B-05 -- Obverse: chip value 75. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Green

B-05r -- Reverse: chip value 75. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Green

B-06 -- Obverse: chip value 100. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-06r -- Reverse: chip value 100. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Several

B-07 -- Obverse: chip value 500. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Violet

B-07r -- Reverse: chip value 500. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Violet

B-08 -- Obverse: chip value 1000. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Black

B-08r -- Reverse: chip value 1000. Set “Nacional Casino Habana”, in bakelite with adornments  -- Black
   

C-01 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip value $100. Set “CN”, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Red
   

D-01 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “CN at the center of a star”, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Cream

D-02 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “CN at the center of a star”, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Yellow

D-03 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “CN at the center of a star”, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Red

D-04 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “CN at the center of a star”, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Blue

D-05 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “CN at the center of a star”, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Brown

D-06 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set with a letter A at the center of a star, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Green

D-07 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set with a numeral 1 at the center of a star, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Green

D-08 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set with a numeral 3 at the center of a star, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Green

D-09 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set with a numeral 10 at the center of a star, attributed to Casino Nacional -- Green
   

E-01 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “NC above a small star”, attributed to Nacional Casino -- Cream

E-02 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “NC above a small star”, attributed to Nacional Casino -- Red

E-03 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “NC above a small star”, attributed to Nacional Casino -- Pink

E-04 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “NC above a small star”, attributed to Nacional Casino -- Blue

E-05 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “NC above a small star”, attributed to Nacional Casino -- Light brown
   

G-01 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Cream

G-02 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Yellow

G-03 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Red

G-04 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Blue

G-05 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Green

G-06 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Brown

G-07 -- Obverse ídem reverse: chip without value. Set “Gran Casino Habana Cuba”, with a flag at the center -- Light violet
   

K-01 -- “The Beautifying of the Beach” – Article in the “Chic” magazine of July 1918  

K-02 -- “See Cuba first” - Article in the “Social” magazine of July 1920  

K-03 -- “The Beach” – Page in the “Social” magazine of July 1919  

K-04 -- “Good company” – Page in the “Social” magazine of June 1919  

K-05 -- “The ideal gift” – Back cover of the “Social” magazine of December 1919.
   

L-01 -- “Great Casino Beach, 1920-21 season” – In the “Social” magazine of November 1920  

L-02 -- “The Casino Beach” – In the “Social” magazine of June 1920  

L-03 -- “The port-cochère of the club” – In the “Social” magazine of June 1920  

L-04 -- Details of the same by the inside” – In the “Social” magazine of June 1920  

L-05 -- “The opening of the casino” – In the “Social” magazine of February 1922  

L-06 -- “End of the season” – In the “Social” magazine of June 1922  

L-07 -- “Andrés de Segurola, manager” – In the “Social” magazine of November 1920  
   

M-01 -- Propaganda card – Gran Casino de la Playa at Marianao  

M-02 -- Propaganda card – Gran Casino de la Playa at Marianao (reverse)  

M-03 -- Tarjeta postal – Casino de la Playa.  

M-04 -- Post card – Havana. Casino de la Playa  

M-05 -- Post card – The Casino. Marianao.  

M-06 -- Post card – Havana. Casino de la Playa  

M-07 -- Post card – The National Casino.  

M-08 -- Post card – Havana. The Casino de la Playa.  

M-09 -- Tarjeta postal – Casino de la Playa. Terrazas  

M-10 -- Tarjeta postal – Casino de la Playa. Show.  

M-11 -- Tarjeta postal – Casino de la Playa. Orchestra  

M-12 -- Propaganda card – The Casino (Food, dances, roulettes)  
   

N-01 -- Post card – Grand National Casino.  

N-02 -- Post card – Grand National Casino.  

N-04 -- Post card – Marianao Havana, Grand Casino.  

N-05 -- Post card – Havana, Grand National Casino.  

N-06 -- Post card – The Casino. Havana.  

N-07 -- Post card – Havana. Grand National Casino.  

N-08 -- Post card – Havana. National Casino.  

N-09 -- Post card – Grand National Casino.  

N-10 -- Post card – Grand National Casino.  

N-11 -- Post card – Fountain of the National Casino  

N-12 -- Post card – The fountain in front of the Casino  

N-14 -- Post card – The fountain seen from the Casino  

N-15 -- Post card – Close up of the fountain  

N-16 -- Post card – Perspective of the fountain.  
   

P-01 -- “National Casino, season of 1929-30 – Propaganda in 1930 Guía Social.  

P-02 -- “National Casino, food, dance, roulette” – Propaganda in the “Carteles” magazine of February 23, 1930  

P-03 -- “Reconstruction of the Casino” – Article in the “Rotograbado del Diario de la Marina”, Wednesday, October 10, 1928.  

P-04 -- “Grand National Casino, season of 1928” – Propaganda in 1928 Guía Social.  

P-05 -- “National Casino, Roulette, Hazard, Dice” – In the “La Semana” magazine of March 18, 1931  

P-07 -- “Grand National Casino” – Propaganda in 1948 Directorio Social Habana   

P-08 -- “Grand National Casino, world attractions” – Propaganda in the “Cinetemas” magazine of January 1953  

P-09 -- “Grand National Casino, wait for the New Year” – Propaganda in the “Gente” magazine of January 4, 1953  
   

Q-01 -- Article about the Grand Casino – In 1926 Terry’s Guide to Cuba   

Q-02 -- Article “The Game in Havana in 1941” – In “Habana Mañana. A Guide to Cuba and the Cubans”, by Consuelo Hermer   
   

R-01 -- Image of the Grand Casino – in “Habana Mañana. A Guide to Cuba and the Cubans”, by Consuelo Hermer.  

R-02 -- Photo of the Grand National Casino, propaganda of Trinidad y Hermano.  

R-03 -- Grand National Casino, Souvenir 1938-39 – Propaganda in a brochure’s cover   

R-04 -- Grand National Casino, Souvenir 1940-41 – Propaganda in a brochure’s cover   
   

S-01 -- Map of the city – From the 1926 Terry’s Guide to Cuba   

S-02 -- Map ”Havana and its surroundings – Esso propaganda   
   

U-01 -- “The case of the Oriental Park Race Track and the Grand National Casino”, booklet, Havana 1948 – Front cover
 

U-02 -- “The case of the Oriental Park Race Track and the Grand National Casino”, booklet, Havana 1948 – Preface  

U-03 -- “The case of the Oriental Park Race Track and the Grand National Casino”, booklet, Havana 1948 – Page 3  

U-04 -- “The case of the Oriental Park Race Track and the Grand National Casino”, booklet, Havana 1948 – Page 4  

U-05 -- “The case of the Oriental Park Race Track and the Grand National Casino”, booklet, Havana 1948 – Page 5  
   

V-01 -- “Summer Casino, Entertainments” – propaganda in “La Semana” magazine of September 1928.  

V-02 -- “Summer Casino, Bacarat” – Propaganda in 1930 Guía Social   

V-03 -- “Summer Casino, open all nights” – Propaganda in “La Semana” magazine of June 4, 1930.  

V-04 -- Summer Casino, Invitation for the opening of the season