The Grosvenor Casino, at the Ricoh Arena in notorious Coventry, is one of the key nodes in the UK’s poker network.
Its enormous floor — part of which on regular business days is sequestered behind sliding walls — is the home of the largest live tournament outside Vegas, The Goliath.
After shutting down for several months due to COVID, this week they have reopened their poker room, allowing games to run from “6 PM to 6 AM. Times are subject to change.”
Their app now has waiting lists on tables for £0.25/£0.50 £0.50/£0.50, £1/£1 and £2/£5 no-limit hold’em games, and a similar number of pot-limit Omaha tables at similar stakes.
One player described arriving at 11:30 PM and finding there was “a decent cash game on [with] about 4 – 7 players throughout the night.”
Very few of these games will be running though. The Casino confirmed over the phone that they are putting on just enough capacity for fourteen players for now.
They are not running tournaments as yet. In a pandemic, discretion really is the better part of valor.
A David from a Goliath
For comparison, last August, the Goliath attracted 9,300 entries all of whom ponied up £125. That was the largest field since the year before when 7,854 players piled in.
We can assume that at the time, most of those 9.3k people had never heard of Wuhan province. This year the Goliath moved online.
The Grosvenor Casino Coventry closed down on the 20th of May 2020, in line with UK government restrictions, as the nation went into lockdown.
Though lockdown restrictions have loosened since then. The government has held off on opening until just a few weeks ago. This makes casinos one of the last places to open. This is understandable when one thinks of all the chips and cards being passed from dealer to player and back again.
Betting shops reopened on the 15th of June and bingo halls on the 4th of July, but casinos had to wait until the 15th of August to crack open the shutters.
Coming up for air
Poker rooms have lagged even farther behind table games as a whole.
Poker is a much higher risk than table games. Every card and chip is a potential viral vector and can pass through every hand at the table. Players sit for hours crowded about the baize, breathing each other’s dust.
Besides, the house makes less per hour raking a £0.50/£0.50 hold’em table than they do putting out another blackjack or roulette table.
Dusk Till Dawn, another of the biggest names in the UK’s live poker scene, remains closed. As do many of the smaller Grosvenor Casino’s poker rooms.
So the Grosvenor Casino Coventry is leading the way out of the crisis for live poker. Or they’re risking making themselves ground zero for a second wave, depending on your point of view.
To avoid the latter scenario the casino has — as one player we spoke with put it — “screens between each seat and between the croupiers and players, cleaned after every player […] If you were scared of the flu then that place would put you at ease one hundred percent.”
They also mentioned that the atmosphere was somewhat “subdued […] due to the militant enforcing of it. However, it depends on your outlook as to whether that’s a good thing or not.” Adding, “Personally, I think it’s excessive, but they have to do what they have to do.”
Screens and sanitary wipes
The security protocol of screens and disinfectant reassures many players and going some way toward protecting staff. The UK government also requires customers to wear masks in casinos, as with all entertainment venues.
Not everyone is confident in the system. Another visitor to the casino this week said the casino floor “seemed quieter and so many people didn’t adhere to the mandatory mask-wearing while walking around.”
Overall, the atmosphere seems to be one of a well-meaning casino doing its best while trying to herd cats.
“The screens are a really good idea. But people standing behind people is a problem. And it seems like no one wants to say anything,” this visitor went on. “All in all I think people just want normality back. And the casino is trying it’s best.”
He paused then added: “People are just idiots.”