French authorities are still trying to track down the armed men who staged a daring robbery on a casino near Marseilles on the weekend.
Early Saturday morning, four masked men armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles entered the Pasino venue in Aix-en-Provence, a small city a few miles north of Marseille on France’s southern coast.
The men, who were wearing balaclavas, fired several warning shots into the ceiling. Coming so soon after November’s Islamic terror attacks in Paris, the crowd of around 700 inside the casino panicked and stampeded for the exits.
One of those present at the time told France 2 television that many of the panicked guests were “trampling over those who had fallen over, it was the behavior of animals.”
The witness said he quickly deduced that the men with the guns were more likely to be robbers than terrorists since they had made the effort to disguise their identities. Despite his efforts to reassure those around him, the stampede resulted in minor injuries to over a dozen casino patrons.
Police said the robbers, who remain at large, managed to collect about €3k of the casino’s cash along with €30k in casino chips before making their getaway. The casino reopened that same day, albeit with extra security on hand. Police have confirmed that the robbery was “absolutely not a terrorist act.”
FROM SMOKING BARRELS TO SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM
The robbed casino is part of the Pasino mixed-use entertainment chain run by France’s Groupe Partouche, which is currently constructing a new gaming venue in La Ciotat, a few miles east of Marseilles, that is slated to open in spring 2017.
The new La Ciotat venue will feature two casinos: one inside, one outside. The overall structure of the €10m facility is designed to look like an overturned boat hull. A terrace will be covered by giant canvas umbrellas intended to shield customers from both sun and rain.
More importantly, the open-air venue will allow customers to smoke Gauloises cigarettes to their heart’s content while playing slots or table games. Groupe Partouche board president Fabrice Paire said French casinos had suffered a 25% decline in visitation since the country introduced its indoor smoking ban in 2008 – and only just returned to growth last year – and the expectation is that the new venue will generate 20% more revenue via its carcinogen-friendly vibe.