The Gambler's Guide Part 1: European Casinos
I’ve been talking to a couple of friends for quite some time about going on a road trip and visiting some of the best poker rooms and casinos in Europe. After a couple of weeks, we finally planned a route, checked the weather forecast, and booked our flights.
Honestly, I always liked smaller poker rooms and never had an opportunity to visit these big casinos, but that was about to change. The plan was to fly to Barcelona, and from there to continue our journey to Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and end our trip in London.
All of the mentioned cities are well-known for hosting big poker tournaments that attract professional poker players, and all of us were thrilled that we would get a chance to play cards in some of these venues.
First Stop: Casino Barcelona, Spain
The first stop on our poker road trip was the famous Casino Barcelona located at the Olympic Port and features games such as roulette, slot games, and blackjack in addition to poker. The high rollers just love the Casino Barcelona since this place hosts many major poker tours and quite a lot of celebs from the poker world can be seen during these events.
Unfortunately, there were no big tournaments on the weekend of our visit, but because it was Friday many locals showed up as well as some elderly tourists who were looking for some action at the poker tables. We were told that the most exciting day of the week at the casino is Thursday.
Well, this may sound weird to some of you, but Thursdays are reserved for the DJ Poker and Music Tournament, where live DJs play electro music and entertain the poker players who are at the tables involved in cash games and in various tournaments.
Rumor has it that most of the cash games in Casino Barcelona are not that tough because there are many drunk gamblers.
It was close to 9 p.m/ when a couple of my friends and I decided to move from a cash table to a Texas Hold'em (No Limit) poker tournament. There were around 30 players involved in the tournament, mostly local gamblers and a couple of semi-professionals judging by their branded shirts.
One of my friends finished fourth and won enough money for us to spend the rest of the evening in bars and restaurants. Rumor has it that most of the cash games in Casino Barcelona are not that tough because there are many drunk gamblers, which are always a perfect bait for grinders and those who know a thing or two about the game.
There is no shortage of food at Casino Barcelona. They have four super cool restaurants that serve everything from seafood and Peruvian dishes to Japanese cuisine and of course traditional Italian specialties.
You can also enjoy well equipped bar with an extensive wine list. Those of you who want to party in the casino after playing poker can check out Discoteca Baccara which is a large venue that opens until early in the morning. All of us were tired from the flight, many hours of gambling, and plenty of drinks at the bar, so we chose to skip the nightclub and rest before our next stop; Bulgaria.
Second Stop: Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
Our next destination on this gambling road trip was Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. The great thing about this resort is that it attracts a lot of tourists who are on vacation in summer, so the whole place was packed with visitors from other European countries.
I didn’t know much about casinos here and no one I personally knew who had ever visited Sunny Beach, so we had no way of telling which of the available casinos was the best choice. What we found out later is that Sunny Beach is surprisingly charming and has a lot to offer. Nice accommodation, beaches, and several casinos that host poker tournaments, starting with Platinum Casino.
We were told by the locals that this is one of the hottest spots in the region for gambling that is packed with activities and fine cuisine. They were right! The platinum complex consists of the Platinum Hotel and the Platinum Casino. Both are lavishly decorated and offer incredible views of the Black Sea.
The rooms we stayed in were nothing fancy but were cleaned daily and all the necessary amenities were included; most importantly, the mini bar.
Enough about the hotel, what about the casino?
Platinum Casino offered classic games such as blackjack and American Roulette in addition to plenty of slot machines. As for the poker room, it was extravagant but there was not a lot action in the evening.
The poker players were mostly middle-aged tourists who barely knew the rules to the game, but on the other hand, this earned us some money after a couple of hours at the tables. Later, I was told that the poker room hosts some major tournaments, but we were out of luck because one of the poker tournaments was scheduled for next weekend.
We had some time left in the evening to check out the action at the tables of Casino Kuban. This complex includes a casino with free drinks for players (that had us sold right off the bat). You could also find tables for Caribbean Stud Poker, Three Card Poker, and blackjack.
I liked the staff here because all of them were friendly and attentive with drinks constantly being brought to our table. As for the games, there was a cash game of poker in which myself and one more friend got involved. We did just fine, because like in other places the players are not even semi-professional regulars - some would say that it was like stealing candy from a baby.
All in all, Sunny Beach is a good destination, but is still not comparable to more well-known gambling hot spots in Europe.
Third Stop: King’s Casino Rozvadov, Czech Republic
Our next stop was the King’s Casino in Rozvadov. I have heard only great things about this place from my friends, so I was really looking forward to visiting this resort and was not disappointed!
The first thing that caught our attention is the level of service. We were offered a complimentary shuttle to the casino from the airport, which was a genuinely nice touch from the manager. The ride was short and we checked-in at a guesthouse near the casino.
The thing is that this resort does not offer many rooms, and we were also told that lot of poker celebs are not impressed with the accommodation and lack of deluxe apartments and recreational activities. The good news is that King’s Casino is in the process of adding over 200 additional rooms, suites, and deluxe accommodations.
In addition to a hotel upgrade, the manager told us that they are investing over $20 million and that there are also going to be around new 40 poker tables added. There will be luxury suites on the fourth floor of the hotel to accommodate all the poker celebs that can be pretty demanding.
He also told us that they are in the process of building a fitness center and some massage rooms, but I was already finishing my 5th drink and did not catch all the details.
What I liked most at the King’s Casino is that it focuses mainly on poker. Basically, no one comes here to play blackjack or any other casino games. Before I came here, I read somewhere that this is actually the biggest poker room in Europe. It was breathtakingly huge and constantly packed with players.
Almost every weekend there are tournaments or satellites to other poker events in the area. I mean, World Series of Poker and Poker Stars organized events here for God’s sake. We enrolled in a couple of tournaments and played some cash games in the evening. There were a couple of regulars, professional poker players, some grinders at the cash tables, and several tourists.
Everyone was friendly and the atmosphere was exquisite, not to mention the food here is delicious with huge portions that are reasonably priced. The overall impression of this casino is that it’s fantastic, and when they finish the renovations, it will probably be one of the best spots in the world for poker players.
Last Stop: Hippodrome, London, UK
The last day of our tour was spent in London; more precisely, Hippodrome. This is probably the most popular casino in the city, and it is also the largest one in London. I read somewhere that it was voted Casino of the Year in 2012.
The thing we liked about Hippodrome is that it is always open, night and day, even during the holidays (except Christmas). Our plan was to sit and drink at the bar and spend some time at the slot machines and baccarat tables, simply because we were sick of the thought of playing poker for the fourth day in a row.
The casino features three gambling floors and the famous Heliot restaurant that serves delicious steaks. The cocktail bar is a very popular place here and we barely found a place to sit. What I liked most about this casino was that you can see all kinds of guests here, from tourists on vacation and casually dressed locals to celebrities and businessman in suits.
The only downside is that after 3 days of spending most of our time in smaller venues with fewer people, Hippodrome was too loud for us, so we decided to call it a night after winning some cash at the slots.
All in all this road trip was a blast. Meeting drunk poker players in Barcelona, hot girls in bikinis on the beaches of Bulgaria and being able to play poker with professionals in Czech Republic followed by cocktails at London’s Hippodrome has made this experience an unforgettable one.
We truly had the ultimate European casino experience!