For locals, betting shops and bingo halls may be a normal aspect of everyday life. Even those who don’t wager on football or housey-housey are familiar with the past times. Additionally, storied traditions like the Grand National at Aintree are part of national identity.
Despite these factors, there’s no real gaming capital in Britain to speak of. Despite having one of the longest-running traditions in the world related to sports betting, UK casinos are young while other establishments are older than many think, dating back centuries.
For example, the famous Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco opened in 1856, while the Casino di Venezia stretches back all the way to 1638. Even the US’s Las Vegas has two locations older than the Casino Club in Port Talbot. The Flamingo opened its doors in 1946, while The Golden Gate was established in 1931.
But the UK’s first legal casino didn’t open its doors until 1961—and it barely made it past its 50-year anniversary before shutting down. So, what happened to the Casino Club in Port Talbot? And will there be another comparable location to open its doors to the public?
The Roaring 60s
In 1960, the Betting and Gaming Act led to the establishment of multiple new venues. Bingo halls popped up around the country, while investors flocked to create one-stop casinos. One such location was Casino Club in Port Talbot, which opened its doors just one year after the Betting and Gaming Act was passed.
But Casino Club wasn’t just about roulette and craps. It was about the lifestyle surrounding casinos. People dressed in their finest clothing, donning jewels and fur to sit at a table and throw the dice. The Club had other forms of entertainment, too, from cabaret to fine dining to concerts.
The surrounding area of Port Talbot, which was the largest steel town throughout Europe, was the perfect venue for such a place. The lifestyle was gritty and laborious, but the nights were filled with bright lights and excitement, with travelers coming in from Swansea and Cardiff.
For decades, Port Talbot’s Casino Club was one of few extravagant casinos to cater to gamers in Wales and beyond. Other locations popped up in Glasgow, such as the Carntyne Casino, but none held the shine that Casino Club did.
Private Clubs Become the Norm
After celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2011, the Casino Club in Port Talbot shut down. There were fewer visitors as the heyday of the 60s and 70s waned, which is also the case for many bingo halls. In its later years, the Casino Club was a location where tourists poked their heads in, but that few people headed to for an extravagant night out.
Another reason for the casino’s closure is the growing popularity of private and public clubs. Though some might think the UK is low on casinos, the reality is that public and private clubs handle most of the country’s table games and bingo halls.
Legally, gambling operations are easier to regulate when part of a private club. During the 1960s and 70s, the heyday of brick-and-mortar casinos, these private clubs also began popping up around the country. These clubs, such as the Clermont Club in London, offered Chemmy and cabaret.
Entrepreneurs, therefore, were less likely to opt for a large-scale casino-resort scheme. Instead, opening new clubs or attaining registration for an existing club were the easiest ways to get in on the action under the Gaming Board of Great Britain.
A Future for Super Casinos?
This changed recently when the Gambling Act 2005 provided a framework for the creation of ‘super casinos’ like those in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for the Casino Club in Port Talbot, it was too late for the establishment to win a bid from the government to construct a large-scale casino resort.
Despite the Gambling Act 2005, the government opted to support 16 smaller casinos to be built in a variety of locations, including Wolverhampton. The government’s original plans to build a super-casino in Manchester were abandoned officially in 2007.