In the lap of Lady Luck

A game of pontoon at the Grosvenor 'G' Casino at the Gunwharf Quays '' ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (13177-6128)
A game of pontoon at the Grosvenor 'G' Casino at the Gunwharf Quays '' ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (13177-6128)

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As the roulette wheel spins again, fingers are metaphorically crossed. Where will the little white ball land? Piles of brightly-coloured chips have been placed neatly on various different numbers and the rest is now down to Lady Luck.

For many, influenced by popular culture such as the James Bond films, roulette is still the classic image that comes to mind when they think of a casino. Maybe they also imagine such places as late night gambling dens,

But these days there’s a new type of casino in town.

The Grosvenor Casino in Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth may still have the traditional gambling games, but there’s also a bar, a restaurant, a designated show bar and a poker room - all thanks to a £2.7mn renovation that finished just before Christmas.

It’s part of a new line of casinos from a chain called G casinos. These are designed to be more of a social hub, a place for friends and groups to meet up and have fun, not just bet money. An evening destination, not a late night gambling hideaway.

It’s a world away from the controversy over fixed odds betting machines in bookmakers, which hit the headlines this week after the Campaign for Fairer Gambling called for the maximum stake to be reduced to £2. At the moment punters can bet up to £100 a time on games such as blackjack, or each 20-second spin on roulette. This has led to the machines being dubbed the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.

Paul Brady, 48, has been the general manager of the Grosvenor Casino at Gunwharf for the past four years. Having worked in various casinos since he was 19, his job has taken him all over the world, including Africa, Poland and Russia.

Paul, who lives in Southampton, says: ‘It took three months but it has been a complete transformation, with the show bar and the dedicated card room changing the whole venue.

‘The whole brand changed and we have now become a G casino, which is more of a social venue as opposed to a traditional brand.’

The casinos are big business across the country, with a large Grosvenor venue in Southampton. In the Portsmouth area, there are also a number of businesses that offer a ‘casino experience’ where poker and blackjack tables are set up at private functions.

At Gunwharf, the casino has bought the empty venue next door, which had previously been the nightclub Highlight, and expanded. It may have been a long progress, but the casino is one of 20 in the chain to go through a rebranding process.

In Paul’s eyes, it was worth it: ‘We managed to keep operations going throughout. That was quite a challenge, when you put a big wall across a room it causes a big problem with the air conditioning believe it or not! We’re linked with the Grosvenor Casino on Osborne Road in Southsea and our phrase is ‘‘two venues, one card’’, so one membership.

Paul adds: ‘People have the chance to go to them as a traditional casino, which is more focused on the gaming, or our G version which is more social.’

Now the space is used for far more than just a casino. There’s room for people to eat and drink, the poker room is used for tournaments and Lady G’s Show Bar will be used for performances including tribute acts and comedy nights. The venue even has video game tournaments with an interactive console wall, as well as showing various sporting events throughout the year.

Paul explains: ‘The poker room is great because beforehand people were just sat in a corner of the room playing it.

‘We’ll also be able to start hosting games that are part of the Grosvenor Poker League, which will take place at the end of May.’

He adds: ‘And the wall between the room and the show bar is a cinema wall, so the only thing you can hear coming through is the bass, which isn’t technically sound, it’s to do with the vibrations.’

The casino has expanded so much it can even be used for conferences, and possibly weddings. Although the idea for a show bar originally began in Coventry, Portsmouth is the only place to offer it in a completely separate room.

Paul says: ‘It will bring a much wider audience to the venue, we hope, because of the range in entertainment. The idea is that you can have a whole night out here because you can grab something to eat, something to drink, play a game if you want to and watch a show.

‘Or you can come here before or after you go out because we’re open 24 hours a day. We are changing the game of casinos.’

A long history

It was in Elizabethan England in the 16th century that games of chance became popular as entertainment. But gambling wasn’t legalised until the early 1960s and the Clermont Club in London was the first casino to be granted a licence.

When it started, the casino attracted the likes of James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, Roger Moore and Peter Sellers and still remains one of London’s most popular clubs.

But the natureof casinos is starting to change - and that’s exactly what Grosvenor Casino at Gunwharf Quays is trying to show with its re-branding.

Paul explains: ‘Over the years casinos really have changed, they’re not what people perceive them to be. All the major groups are good at dealing with any problem gamblers. They’re also a very safe environment.

‘Many years ago people would only go into casinos for one thing, but now they’re different.’

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‘I enjoy the social side’

Steve Goodship has been going to the Gunwharf Quays Grosvenor Casino for the past few years with his wife. To him, it’s his local, which can seem surprising considering he lives in Gosport.

The 54-year-old, who was playing the slot machines, says: ‘I enjoy the social side of it and the staff are lovely. They are always pleasant and welcoming.

‘I love the renovation because it’s really opened it up and there’s more room. Considering we live in Gosport, it’s quite a way to come.’

For Steve, it’s more about having somewhere sociable to go.

He adds: ‘There’s always something to do here, whether you want to play the games or not. Otherwise you can grab something to eat and drink, or watch a show.’

So what’s it like?

My first ever trip to a casino was the day after my 18th birthday, says Mischa Allen. I went with my older brother and I remember he told me ‘any money you take in with you, be willing to lose.’

Ever since then, I’ve been a bit wary of the gambling side of casinos, but have spent plenty of evenings in them.

I headed to the Grosvenor Casino one very cold Monday evening, and considering it wasn’t the weekend, the venue seemed full of people. Couples chatted over their meals in the restaurant and a group of young men were laughing and talking about their day near the bar.

When I arrived the poker room was empty, but within half- an- hour it was packed full of people getting ready for a game. People seemed to constantly be moving around the venue, whether they were eating, drinking, playing or watching.

I knew my safest bet was the roulette table. I always thought it had an old-school casino glamour and it’s purely about chance.

Handing the dealer a £10 note, I got back a pile of chips. I did what I assume many people do and placed them on numbers that are lucky to me - 14 for my birthday, 7 because it’s my lucky number.

The wheel was spunn and I was up, one of my numbers had come in!

Granted it was only by 50p, but I was pretty happy about it. Then the pattern of placing bets and the wheel spinning continued. It’s exciting and easy to spread the little plastic discs far across the table.

Finally, I realised I was back with the same amount of chips and had broke even. I decided to quickly withdraw and collect my money. Turns out I wasn’t as willing to lose it as I thought.