Photo by Emile Holba
Germany has developed something of a motherly instinct towards her gamblers, forever introducing new rules that are strict but – so we’re asked to believe - good for us. This not only means that smoking can only happen where and how the government wants, but that gambling has also, since January 1, 2008, become subject to its watch.
All related advertising must be subdued and contain a health warning (“Don’t get addicted!”). It’s also illegal to place bets through telecommunication (that means no more sports betting by telephone or fax) and players must register with the casino before they are allowed to approach the slot machines.
Clearly Germany is no Macau – currently the world’s gambling hotspot and one of the richest places on earth. You can place a safe bet on the fact that in this thriving autonomous region of China, the casinos aren’t giving 80 per cent of their revenue away in special taxes the way their Teutonic equivalents do.
In Germany, you won’t get a free drink, a free concert, a free ride to the casinos or loads of free chips or coupons, like in Las Vegas or Atlantic City: such incentives could be seen as enticements to gamble – just a step away from encouraging addiction!
No, here you get free counseling: each casino must devote a section of their website to Spielerschutz (gamers’ protection) offering all the professional anti-gambling help you desire.
Germans are a rational, sparsam, cautious species and most Berliners are broke. It comes as no surprise, then, that Berlin casinos are so sober. A Berlin gaming floor is a typically calm and serene place. In fact, a good reason to gamble in Germany is the Sicherheitsstandard or safety standards, which are really high. In the words of one Berlin Casino director: “nothing is left to chance, we have everything under control. We keep track of everything.” Shudder, Shudder.
Still fancy a flutter? Wanna bring a bit of Ausländer fun to the gaming floor? You can try your luck at one of three local casinos. And, these days, even the most ruinous of odds might be more likely to offer returns than the stock market...
Casino Berlin am Alex
In the past, Casino Berlin offered its thrill seeking patrons two seperate gambling halls to while away their time (and money) – one situated on the top floor of the Park Inn Hotel and one nestled comfortably at the foot of the TV Tower. However, these two seperate casinos have now been consolidated – bringing the best of both to one of Berlins most iconic of buildings.
Here on the ground floor of the TV Tower, the single-floor casino offers 260 slot machines, three American roulette tables, two blackjack tables, three poker tables with a minimum bet of €100 and two cocktail bars.
The place is dark, cave-like and filled with rows upon rows of electrically-lit pokie machines. The minimum bet is 10 cents but you have to play at least €5. A day ticket costs €1 and an annual pass €50. Dress code-wise, literally anything goes. ABB
Casino Berlin, Berliner Fernsehturm, Panoramastr. 1A, Mitte, U-Bhf + S-Bhf Alexanderplatz, Tel 030 206 3099-0, 11-3:00, www.westspiel.de
Spielbank Potsdam “Joker’s Garden”
If luck isn’t being a lady in Berlin, why not try your chances in neighbouring Potsdam? Only a short walk from the train station – exactly opposite the watchful eyes of Fortuna, a statue dedicated to the goddess’ honour – sits the 18th century building that has housed Potsdam’s casino since 2002.
Once everything in Potsdam revolved around a kaiser, but these days the customer is king. At this two story casino, friendly staff in cute waistcoats attend to your every wish.
The downstairs houses 90 slot machines, including 16 automatic roulette and two jackpot machines as well as a bar. There used to be a small room reserved for non-smokers, but since the ban, the tables have turned: now puffers can use the machines in a separate, albeit decently-sized, section separated from the rest of the floor by glass doors.
Upstairs is an immaculately clean gaming floor that boasts seven supervisors, four roulette tables, three to five poker tables depending on the current tour (with a €50 minimum bid), two blackjack tables and a bar.
The dress code is casual: in general, men are expected to wear a jacket (no tie), but in summer, the rules relax – although shorts remain a major no-no. Entrance costs €5 for a day ticket (including three chips) and €20 for a “Lucky“ package (including 10 chips-worth). ABB
Spielbank Potsdam, Schloßstr. 14, Potsdam, S-Bhf Potsdam, Tel 331 2909 300, slot machines: 11-3:00, gaming floor: 15-3:00, www.spielbank-potsdam.de
Spielbank Berlin am Potsdamer Platz
The Spielbank Berlin with its 11,000 square meters, four floors and three affiliated gambling halls is the biggest, most modern casino in Germany. It was originally opened in 1975 in the Europa Center at Zoologischer Garten, then relocated in 1998 to the famous Renzo Piano building at Potsdamer Platz.
If you are looking for something that might vaguely resemble an American-style casino, the Spielbank is as close as it gets in this country.
For only €2, you are granted access to the 350 slot machines in the basement and on the (smoking) ground floor. The casino also includes a restaurant and a theater in the first floor “party room”, where events and live shows take place.
To be allowed into the exclusive Casino Royale room with its four blackjack tables and eight French and American roulettes, you must dress up and be ready to spill some cash – stakes must be a minimum of € 500. However, in the casual area you can play poker for € 20 and place € 10 bets on blackjack, making table games more accessible: now the Spielbank averages 2,000 visitors a day./VC
Spielbank Berlin, Marlene-Dietrich-Platz 1, Potsdamer Platz, Tel 255 990, slot machines: 11-5:00, gaming floors: 15-3:00, www.spielbank-berlin.de
Originally published in Mar 2009. Updated in Feb 2012.