The Casino at Knockke by Ginny Suter
CASINO’s Built with the redevelopment of Albert Plage, after a viloent storm in the winter of 1921-22, hit the Flemish coast and destroyed a large part of the sea front between Duinbergen and Knokke.
The developer, Senator and Industrialist Joseph Nellens, built another dike, in 1925, 100 metres further inland laid with a new soft sand beach. His next project was to built a Casino, with the aim or promoting tourism. It was inaugurated in 1930, in what was Knokke Le Zoute and since become Knokke-Heist.
In Belgium, Casinos are tolerated rather than legalised. They are controlled by strict rules and pay taxes. Permitted in holiday areas to help encourage tourism and the occasional flutter holiday rather than a permanent addiction. The percentage of gambling at Casino’s is rather small compared to other venues such as betting. The croupiers are trained in house, earn between BEF25.000 — BEF35.000 per month depending on experience. Their income comes solely from tips which are pooled and shared.
The Casino at Knokke — The history of the Casino is complex but interesting. The story is linked with the rise and development of the Albert Plage and its locality. It dates back to the winter of 1921-22, when the seaside between Duinbergen and Knokke was destroyed by a violent storm and a quarter of the sea front was demolished.
Consequently, the devastated land belonging to the “Knokke-Duinbergen Extension Company”, lost its value and the shareholders wanted to sell it. It was bought in 1922 by the Antwerp Senator and Industrialist Joseph Nellens who bought all the shares in the company and became owner of a 22 hectares of land between Duinbergen and Knokke.
In order to stimulate the building industry, he offered to lay a large soft sand beach if the Ministry of Public Works would demolish the remaining part of the devastated dike, following which he would build another, 100 metres further inland. In doing so, he relinquished 20 hectares of the recently acquired land to the state.
The dike was constructed in 1925 and the new beach was born on Albert Plage. With the agreement of the local authorities, Joseph Nellens built a Casino, aiming to promote tourism. It was inaugurated in 1930. This part, of what was Knokke Le Zoute, has since be come Knokke-Heist.
After the death of Joseph Nellens, his son Gustave took over. He relegated the “Company’s Lands Exploitation” to the second plan and concentrated on the dynamic management of the casino. Under his impulse the Casino’s activities were not limited only to the summer season but extended all year around, and he began to promote great cultural events to build up the Knokke Casino’s reputation.
In 1971 his son, Jacques Nellens took over and extended the activities. He renewed the building in 1972, giving more versatility, and adaptability for new requirements, especially conference organisation. (One large glass panelled wall and double doors can rise into a recess, opening up the room onto the main hall).
To extend the image of the most prestigious Casino in Belgium the directors decide to let execute (apart from the contract obligations that they have with the commune) supplementary transformations starting in 1987, costing 8million Belgian francs.
Further renovations during the winter of 1992-3 the Casino were carried out to the “Salle des Fête”, the “Hall du Lustre”, the Keith Haring’s room and the “Ambassadors Lounge” and the Gustave Nellens exhibition room.
The external façade of the Casino was painted too.
Since September 1995 Knokke Casino has been part of the “Partouch Group”, France’s leading game business.
The Salle des Fêtes in the heart of the Casino. Its versatility and adaptability can accommodate banquets, spectacles, conferences, fashions shows, and seating between 700-800 at the dining tables. During the summer season the annual Belgian Summer Festival offers holiday makers a wide range of cultural and artistic events: theatre, concerts, films, ballets, international stars and recitals, music halls and cabarets. The rest of the year is animated with gastronomic dinner-parties or with Haute Couture fashion shows.
The Magritte Room While people were queuing by the thousands to see the Magritte exhibition in Brussels at Easter, the Magritte Room at the Casino held its own permanent exhibition, a mural, high in the rotund conference room, painted by Magritte in 1953 at the request of Gustave Nellens. The fresco called “Le Domaine Enchanté” brings together most of Magritte’s inspirational sources. The room is used for banquets and conferences. When not in use the mural can be viewed by the public.
The Halle du Lustre In this hall hangs the largest crystal chandelier in the world. Weighing in at 7 tons, spanning 8.50metres wide, and reaching a height of 7.50metres it has also reached the Guiness Book of Records. It was conceived by the Antwerp architect Joseph Selis and made in Murano (Venice) especially for the Knokke Casino. It has 2.000 light bulbs and thousands of venetian crystal pieces which magically illuminate the hall.
Since May 1983 “Le Voyage Légendaire,” the monumental wall painting (13.16mx4.40m) by Paul Delvaux decorates the large Hall’s east side. This work has been realised on the request of Jacques Nellens for the Chaudfontaine Casino in 1974. When the casino was sold, the race horse owner asked for this painting to be taken away as he planned to place equestrian scenes in its place.
On the south side is the Keith Haring Hall named after the large mural painting by the American artist painted in 1987.
On the west side landing you can see four paintings from Roger Nellens and in the middle of the Hall stands a statue by Nikki de Saint Phalle, “Adam and Eve”.
Les Salles Gustave Nellens In order to promote culture in a concrete manner and particularly painting and sculpture, three adjacent rooms are exclusively reserved for exhibitions. All the great contemporary artists have been shown (see original for names........
La Salle des Jeux This is where the principal activity of the casino, gambling, can be played; French and American Roulette, Bacccara, Chemin de Fer, Black Jack and Boule. Aubusson Tapestries designed by Jean Lurçat (1992-1966) great renovators of art and tapestry, decorate the walls. These were specially made for the Casino based on two themes, the sea and the games. The crystal chandeliers bear the same theme. At one end of the room is a bar and restaurant, “Le Mascotte”, which offers a wide gastronomic choice, from which you can watch the gaming activities.
La Salle Flamande Is a small room for diverse activities is named after the large Flemish style chimney embedded into the wooden panelling.
Le Salon des Ambassadeurs Is the centre for the reception of Arts and spectacles with world famous personalities.
In Knokke there is sea, sand, nature, wonderful walks, boutiques and art galleries.
In the Casino all the traditional games can be played; French and American Roulette, Bacccara, Chemin de Fer, Black Jack and Boule.
Nightbirds can go to one of the Casino night clubs the “No 1” or the “Dubbels” whose ambience is unmatched.
The Knokke Casino is perfectly equipped for banquets, parties, conferences, private parties, wedding celebrations etc.
Original article by Ginny Suter reproduced Here
Original article appearing in "Plug-In Belgium / Internationals in Belgium" where Ginny Suter and Dick Suter were regular contributors in the late 1990's and 2000's Please note that this article was first published many years ago and telephone and fax numbers are likely to be out of date.