What Is the Oldest Casino in the UK: Betting History

by D.Djokic • December 15, 2022
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The United Kingdom is home to some of the world’s most iconic casinos. From the luxurious Empire Casino in London to Brighton’s Rendezvous Casino, there is something for everyone. 

With a rich gambling tradition like this, one might wonder which is the oldest casino in the UK. This article answers that and provides an ample view of UK gambling history. 

Read on to find out more.

Gambling in the UK

Today, there are more than 130 casinos in the United Kingdom scattered throughout the country. Many of these casinos are located in major cities such as London and Manchester or popular vacation spots such as Brighton, but there are also several casinos in smaller towns and villages.

While casinos are now commonplace in all parts of the UK, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that casinos became legal.

The Oldest Casino

When discussing the oldest casinos in the UK,  we must first make a distinction between those casinos that opened in the second half of the 20th century, after the ban on gambling was lifted with the Gaming and Betting Act of 1960, and the famous UK venues that have a long-standing but intermittent history as gambling establishments.

In a way, the new history of UK casinos starts in the 1960s. It’s important to note that there was a lively betting scene well before that. In fact, the Gaming and Betting Act was brought in to curtail some of the ill effects of gambling and its illegal activities on British society.

Betting Before Gambling Was Made Legal

Betting has proven to be more of a passion than a pastime for citizens of Great Britain. Horse racing has been the favourite betting game since the Tudor era, and card games were, for centuries, regularly played for money in parlours and bars.

In the 20th century, greyhound racing became a new major attraction for gamblers. So much so that the clergy and the officials were concerned that this hobby had become such a serious vice that it needed an intervention.

Furthermore, the oldest UK casinos and betting shops were run by notorious gangs and were out of sight of the law. Gambling was a division of crime syndicates and connected other illegal activities to those betting houses. 

Finally, the legalisation was a compromise; it aimed to bring those with a passion for gambling from the underground betting shops into entertainment venues that the officials now oversaw. That, however, took some doing.

Gambling Is Legalised: The Betting and Gaming Act

After gambling became legal with the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, betting houses and casinos started showing up all over the United Kingdom. The first casino that got a licence to operate was the Casino Club in Port Talbot, Wales, making it the UK’s oldest casino

The betting houses and casinos that opened soon after gambling was legalised were not much better than those operating illegally. In most cases, those were the same places, operating in a similar fashion as before.

The Casino Club aimed to change all that and set itself apart from the gambling dens prevalent in the first part of the 20th century. 

Casino Club Port Talbot

In 1962, a gambling enthusiast and entrepreneur, George Alfred James, opened the Casino Club. It was a luxurious place where UK gamblers could enjoy more than just games. It offered a whiff of glamour to the UK public that wasn’t available in other betting places.

Most betting shops were not much different from the clubs where bookmakers ran their business illegally. Still, the Casino Club was the first UK casino with the ambition of bringing the Monte Carlo gambling experience to UK players.

George Alfred James had the vision to open such an establishment in Port Talbot, a seaside port and an industrial centre in Wales. With a lot of money flowing through the town and a location somewhat reminiscent of the famous casinos of France and Italy, Port Talbot seemed like an ideal place for a European-style casino.

Per the Betting and Gaming Act, the Casino Club operated under the “equal chance” rule. This meant that the house couldn’t make profits from the games but rather functioned as a club. The members would pay for the membership and, with it, gain the privilege of gambling. Apart from membership fees, the club made money by selling drinks and food.

It is still being discussed whether or not Casino Club is, indeed, the oldest casino in the UK, but it is certainly the first legal casino in the United Kingdom. It brought the modern casino experience as well as the style and the entertainment value to the UK gaming scene, and for that, it holds its place in history. 

Crockford’s Casino

Crockfords is one of the most prestigious casinos in the United Kingdom today. Located in Mayfair, near the place where the original Crockford’s Gentlemen’s Club was established in 1823, it has once more become an exclusive place for those who want to gamble.

It is argued that Crockford’s has been a popular destination for high-rollers and celebrities for over two centuries, making it a contender for the title of the oldest casino in England.

The original casino was founded by William Crockford, a former fishmonger who went on to become one of the richest men in London. He quickly established Crockford’s as the place to see and be seen, known for its opulent decor and exclusive clientele.

Crockford’s started as a social club for gentlemen with gambling involved. In the 20th century, it was made into a bridge club with poker tables, blackjack, and even a roulette wheel for the patrons.  

Today, the casino continues to be a popular destination for those looking for an upscale gaming experience. It is kept with tradition, and there is still a dress code for both ladies and gentlemen who wish to visit this venue. 

With its rich history and luxurious atmosphere, Crockford’s is truly a unique place to gamble and a part of UK gambling history. 

The Empire Casino

The Empire Casino is another candidate for the honorary title of the oldest casino in England. It is located in Leicester Square, in downtown London. This historical site has been at the heart of London’s entertainment scene since 1884. 

Originally a theatre for variety shows, the Empire Casino hosted luxurious dinners and parties. Since the 1920s, the venue has been adapted for cinema projections, and it has stayed in this business to this day.

The Empire Casino is a new addition to the entertainment capacity of this legendary venue. The casino was officially opened in 2007, two years after the 2005 Gambling Act changed the law, making it possible for casinos to have a wider variety of games and slot machines.

As one of the UK’s oldest casinos, the Empire brings a touch of class and sophistication to the gambling scene. With data showing that online casinos are on the rise, it is venues like the Empire that keep the spirit of luxury alive for future gamblers to experience.

The Hippodrome

The world-famous Hippodrome venue was opened at the very beginning of the 20th century. For more than a century, it operated as a first-class variety theatre and an important part of London’s teeming nightlife.

Known for its superior service and groundbreaking shows, it has held its spot as one of London’s top theatre venues ever since.

The final curtain was drawn in 2009, and the Hippodrome was reinvented once more, this time as a casino. The grand opening took place in 2012. Thus, one of the oldest city venues became one of the top casinos in London, carrying on the tradition of quality service that has graced the Hippodrome throughout its illustrious history.

Bottom Line

Gambling has been popular in the UK for centuries, with various types of betting available well before any casinos were available.

The first UK casinos started to appear in the 19th century, offering traditional casino games to the patrons of gentlemen’s clubs. Most betting houses closed down over time, and betting and gambling were illegal for most of the 20th century. 

It wasn’t until the second part of the 20th century when gambling and betting became regulated by the law, that modern types of casinos were made available to the UK public. And today, with the UK government allowing for “super casinos,” players can have their pick of the games and opportunities to gamble.


What is the largest casino in the UK?

The largest UK casino is the Aspers Casino in London, located in the Westfield Stratford City shopping mall. The casino opened its doors to the public in 2011. It is one of the UK’s “super casinos,” a concept made possible by the 2005 Gambling Act. The new regulation finally allowed casinos to have more than 20 machines available for gamblers. 

Where in Europe is the world’s oldest casino?

The oldest casino in the world is the Casino di Venezia in Venice, Italy. It opened in 1638 and was originally a part of the theatre, where the visitors would gamble during the play’s intermission. 

When did the casinos open in the UK?

The question is often asked: what is the oldest casino in the UK? Although there were illegal casinos and betting shops operating within the UK for centuries, the first legal casinos opened after the Betting and Gaming Act was passed in 1960. It is generally believed that the Casino Club in Port Talbot was the first legal casino to open in the UK.