Brief History of Gambling and Casinos in the UK
Before talking about what is the oldest casino in the UK, it’s important to know the history of UK gambling. Although the UK is not the origin of gambling it was a popular pastime for all UK citizens. It was so popular in the 16th century that the government banned it in 1541, fearing it would disrupt military training.
The law itself was not enforced, but subsequent laws throughout the 18th and 19th centuries attempted to regulate gambling in various ways. Despite this, gambling continued to thrive, with horse racing being the most popular betting activity. King Charles II was a jockey, and the Ascot Racecourse was opened in 1711, while lotteries were frequently used to fund military campaigns.
While the 18th century saw horse racing becoming even more popular thanks to railway transportation, aristocrats enjoyed high-stakes gambling at private clubs. Eventually, casinos became the most popular form of gambling during the 19th century with their card games. While gambling houses existed before, casinos were fully legalised with the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act.
Despite the pressure from puritan groups, gambling remained a popular pastime for players of all social statuses. While nobles enjoyed risking it all, the middle-class preferred the casual atmosphere of fun card games. Buying a share of a lottery ticket was also a popular way to play the lottery. But where would a person go if he wanted to play at a casino during those times?
What is the Oldest Casino in the UK
Although many small gambling houses had existed before then, nothing could match the success of the oldest casino in the UK: St James’s Club. A fishmonger named William Crockford founded it on the 2nd of January 1823 with the help of architects Benjamin and Philip Wyatt. The casino was located on the famous St. James Street in London.
In the 19th c., the UK entered an era of peace. Many nobles and young wealthy people looked for ways to pass the time. Early Regency gambling houses provided a fun distraction, but often tried to cheat their customers, and fights broke out when someone lost vast sums of money.
Crockford aimed to create a place with fair games and complete safety accessible for all social classes. Its members were exclusively men, and the guest list included some of the most influential people at the time, such as Arthur Wellesly, the 1st Duke of Wellington. With Louis-Eustache Ude, a famous French chef, as the cook, the oldest casino in UK gained the reputation of a high-class exclusive club.
Crockford won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation. Captain Rees Gronow, on Crockford’s Success
Not much is known about the games at the oldest UK casino, except that Hazard, an old version of the baccarat game was incredibly popular. Similar to modern casinos, guests could enjoy chatting with each other and relaxing at the bar between games, with free food and drinks after midnight.
By the time the club closed in 1845, Crockford had amassed a fortune of at least £1 million. The oldest UK casino would serve as an inspiration and prototype to some of the best casinos in London with its focus on providing a solid overall experience and not just a place to play games.
The club’s legacy did not end there, as it was turned into a bridge club in 1928, and eventually, players could enjoy blackjack and roulette games. Meanwhile, Crockfords Club on Curzon Street in London is a casino directly inspired by the original club and owned by the Genting Group. With his business sense and knack for calculating odds, Crockford revolutionised gambling in the UK.
Other Old UK Casinos
Gambling in the 19th c. was prevalent despite the prohibitions, and casinos were the latest fad. Although private casinos would only become legal in 1960 according to early UK gambling laws, there were many private clubs on St. James Street, along with many underground venues such as Esmeralda’s Barn.
To better understand the developments that led to modern casinos, we will take a look at some of the oldest legal gambling operators. We will cover them in detail in separate paragraphs, so use the list below to find your preferred one:
The Casino Club – UK’s Oldest Legal Operator
While the answer to what’s the oldest casino in the UK may be St. James’s Club, The Casino Club in Port Talbot, Wales, was the oldest casino in the UK that had a legal licence. It was opened in 1961, immediately after the Betting and Gaming Act was introduced, and would quickly become a popular attraction among locals and tourists from Cardiff and Swansea. Port Talbot was a global industrial centre during that time, so the casino thrived.
There were no limits, and the casino operated with an “equal chance” licence, meaning the casino made no profit, and all winnings went to the players. Aside from chemin-de-fer and baccarat, players could enjoy roulette games similar in quality to some of the top online roulette games. Club members could also relax at the bar, dine at the restaurant that can seat up to 400 people, party on the dance floor or watch cabaret performances.
Although the citizens had mixed feelings about the casino, some outright against it, it would operate for 50 years before closing. The popularity of the first legal casino would lead to further successful regulations, such as the Gambling Act of 2005, which created the UKGC and featured more provisions for UK gambling licences.
Clermont Club – Old Casino Reborn
In 1962, a year after The Casino Club opened, John Aspinall would open his casino called Clermont Club. The club was located in the expensive Mayfair district of London and named after the 1st Earl of Clermont, an avid gambler. Similar to Crockford’s club, this was an exclusive club for wealthy and influential people, although it also admitted women.
Princess Margaret, James Goldsmith and Mark Birley were all members at one point, enjoying the exquisite atmosphere and exclusivity that resembled the early gentlemen’s clubs. There were plenty of exciting games, such as roulette or baccarat, and the food was free.
What makes this club different is that it still operates to this day. After being closed briefly in 2018, it reopened in 2020 with three rooms for blackjack, three-card poker and other games. It captures the prestigious atmosphere of a gentleman’s club, complete with a restaurant and many modern conveniences. However, it is still exclusively for members.
Grosvenor Casino The Victoria – London’s Top Poker Room
The Grosvenor Casino brand has been famous since its creation in the 70s, but few know its oldest casino in the UK. Originally known as the Victoria Sporting Club in the 60s, it began as a sportsbook for horse races. Eventually, as card games became popular, the Victoria became a casino and part of the Grosvenor Casino chain, which nowadays includes more than 50 operators across the UK.
The Vic, as it is colloquially known, became known for its high-stakes games in the 80s, which include roulette, casino war, jackpot slots and more. After the creation of The Poker Room, this casino would also become the stage for world-class poker tournaments, such as the European Poker Tour and The Grosvenor UK Poker Tour. Below, you can learn more about this spectacular operator:
|📛 Name:||Grosvenor Casino The Victoria|
|🗓️ Established:||The mid-1960s|
|🏢 Owner:||The Rank Group|
|🎰 Games:||Slots, Roulette, Blackjack, Poker, etc.|
|🗺️ Location:||150-162 Edgware Road, London|
|⏰ Working Hours:||24/7|
|👨🍳 Other Amenities:||The Poker Room, Restaurant, Bar, Private Club|
Although it is not the oldest casino in the UK, the Vic has a similarly rich history and remains a popular spot for gamblers. These days, players can enjoy playing their favourite games from the comforts of their homes with Grosvenor Casino online. However, land-based operators offer a unique social experience, and the oldest UK casinos inspire even the most modern ones.
The Modern UK Casinos
According to recent UK gambling statistics, online casinos have overtaken their land-based counterparts in popularity, as many players find them much more accessible. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember what’s the oldest casino in the UK and that its incredible social atmosphere, combined with fun games, paved the way for the success of future land-based and online casinos in the UK.
We hope you enjoyed our brief journey through the history of the oldest UK casino. If you wish to learn more about land-based UK casinos, you can check out our blog on the biggest casinos in UK. Alternatively, you can take a look at our article on the rules of Whist and learn about this fascinating 18th c. game.
Oldest Casino in UK FAQ
Before we finish our blog, we will answer all your questions regarding the oldest casino in the UK. Learn some extra details on the oldest casino and gambling houses, along with what the oldest legal casino in the UK is. You can even find out how modern casinos have been influenced.