There are a whopping 24 casinos in London, about one-third of the number in Las Vegas. The city is generally known to be in the top five gambling places in the world, sharing a spot in a list with places like Monte Carlo, Macau, Atlantic City, and, of course, the aforementioned Strip. The history of gambling and casinos in the capital is rich and highly interesting, as described below.
Before gambling legalisation changed in 1960, gambling took on two forms; the licensed by patents that served the country’s upper classes, and the underground gambling for the lower and middle classes. The latter mostly took the form of off-course horse betting. The business thrived for about a century, starting in the mid 1800s; over this period, gambling developed from informal bets between friends to commercial forms enabled by bookies and opportunistic entrepreneurs. By the start of the Second World War, the most popular forms were horse betting, greyhound races, and football pools. The smaller betting areas such as cards and local sports remained relatively unaffected by commercialisation.
Image Source: littleredfeather.com Image Caption: Horse betting remains one of the city’s and country’s favourite gambling activities
Due to the vagueness of the legislation, combined with the high amount of underground gambling clubs, there is some disagreement regarding which establishment can be considered London’s first casino, although Whites, originally opened as a coffee shop by the Italian Francesco Bianco, is often considered one of the first gaming establishments in the United Kingdom as it opened its doors for politicians and royalty in 1652.
More famous however, was the Crockfords Hotel and Casino in Curzon Street, which was founded in 1828. Ironically enough, this prestigious and exclusive gambling club was established by a working class man called William Crockford, a former fishmonger who allegedly bankrupted the British aristocracy at the time. Originally created for the royalty and aristocrats, the casino stayed true to its heritage and remains one of the most elegant gambling venues in the city, with many private gambling rooms offering a wide choice of world-class authentic cuisine in its restaurant varying from European, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese dishes.
Image Source: bridgeguys.com Image Caption: William Crockford, founder of Crockfords Hotel and Casino
After the legislation, other forms of gambling rapidly gained popularity in the United Kingdom, such as blackjack, craps, baccarat, and American style roulette (but with one zero). Regarding the latter, although the French scientist Blaise Pascal is often credited with the invention of the wheel and therefore the game, most historic accounts trace the origins of the game back to England, where variations of roulette were called rowlet, roly poly, and ace of hearts.
One of the casinos established shortly after the new gambling legislation is the Grosvenor Victoria Casino (affectionately known as ‘The Vic’), which remains one of the largest and busiest casinos to this day. It sits on top of The Poker Room, which is one of the most iconic poker rooms in the country where tables with a variety of games run 24/7, year-round.
The new legislation paved the way for new development of brick-and-mortar casinos, as the outdated laws finally received an elaborate revision. This resulted in government support for sixteen new casinos, bringing to the total number to about 180 (due to the high amount of locally-licensed premises, the actual number is fairly obscure).
One of the newest and finest places to enjoy any of these games is undoubtedly the Hippodrome Casino on Cranbourn Street, close to the Leicester square metro station. Opened in 2012, the biggest UK casino with its three floors quickly grew to become the busiest as well, having recently welcomed their four-millionth customer.
Image Source: lifeofyablon.com Image Caption: The Hippodrome in Westminster
For something a bit more casual, one should consider The Sportsman Casino Bar & Restaurant in West End. Apart from the 17 gaming tables and ample electronic gaming machines and roulette, the venue organises regular poker cash games and tournaments. As the name would imply, there is also a large sports bar that shows all big sporting events on massive TV screens.
Whether you are in for a casual gamble or looking for an elegant venue to place some wagers, the city of London is littered with casinos that provide for any type of gambling. Some are old and have an incredibly rich history which can almost be smelled upon entering, while others are modern and grandiose as if they were located on the Las Vegas strip. To each their own, and remember; gamble responsibly.