The Vic Casino in London has just received a complete redesign. We sent Jesse May to check it out

Stepping into London’s legendary Vic casino for the first time in ages, Jesse May finds it’s no longer the dark, depressing place that he remembers

I went to the Vic last month and thoroughly enjoyed myself. For a European poker player, the longest-running European cardroom that is London’s Victoria Grosvenor Casino should be as familiar as the wrinkles on your toes. I, however, had not set foot inside the Vic for several years, and the last time I was there I’d been in no hurry to go back.

The Vic does not occupy a hallowed place in my poker history. It is not the cardroom of my childhood, it is not the cardroom of my poker nostalgia. For me, the Vic is not the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, where I played a long-haired hippie with crazy hats and flowered shirts who revelled in 70 tables of action. Nor is it Hannahville casino in the northern peninsula of Michigan, the big cold-rusted tin barn on an Indian reservation, a five-hour snowy drive from Chicago where I would run on weekends from university and explore the novelty known as tournament Hold’em. And the Vic will never be the Stardust, my coming of age cardroom, where I spent summers at 18 and 19 under the wing of grizzled brokes and mother hen dealers, who protected me from the ravages of Vegas while I tried to make my bones at low stakes poker.

Dark days

When I was fresh-faced and 22, I showed up at the Vic with a couple of grand in my pocket and a backpack from travelling around Europe. I hunkered down in a £30 bed-and-breakfast on Edgware Road while waiting for my 48-hour membership application to come through, only to have it rejected. I guess this clouded my view of the Vic. They didn’t want me, not in the 1990s. Over the years I popped in from time to time, but always found it dark, dingy and depressing. There was a great party there when Jimmy White won the second Poker Million, and I spent a rousing night watching Ram Vaswani nearly win a British Open, but even though I knew many people who made the Vic their home, I just never got it. The games looked tight, the action was thick, and when a casino is too dark for sunglasses, then there’s been a serious failure to communicate.

But something has happened to live London poker. I ran into Ashley Alterman, who’s been successfully grinding away on all parts of the scene for as long as I can remember, and is lately making the Vic his daily feed. ‘For many years,’ he said, ‘the live game has been feeding internet poker. But the tables have turned – internet poker is now feeding the live game.’ I looked around the Vic and knew exactly what he meant. More than 20 tables, noisy and robust, swallowing a 5% rake like froth on the ocean. These games were more vibrant than any I’d seen on the internet since before the American ban – D-Day in the world of internet gaming.


I know it’s not a recent makeover, but the Vic looks new. Bright lights flood humming tables, all fed by a video sign-up system which has the promise of efficiency. Yes, the games are slower than the internet – all live poker games are slower than the internet – but rather than end up obsolete like Betamax, live poker in London is now the thing to do. All this time I’d been convinced London cash game regulars like Neil Channing and David Young were dinosaurs. Maybe they just know where it’s at.

I was recently in Vegas, desperately trying to find my past. The Stardust is no longer there and the Gaugin-style murals which defined the old Mirage poker room are long painted over. At the Bellagio I spoke with Lisa, a floor person of 24 years’ Vegas experience. We tossed around names long since forgotten, but that still didn’t help me find a poker room of my past: a brightly-lit friendly room; a place that you can go every day and leave the world behind; people who are happy to be your family, and you theirs. Well, it’s still in London, there at the Vic.

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