Next to the no holds barred, shock-and-awe spectacle of America’s gaming industry, with all its super-plush mega-casinos, outlandish sense of scale and rich, expansive history, the UK can sometimes seem very much like the USA’s poorer cousin when it comes to casino culture.
Have a long hard think about it though, and you’ll realise that the international vision of perfect casino cool owes a very large part of its image to British influence.
One thoroughly British figure that looms large in the universal mythology of casinos is a Mr James Bond, 007. The fictional super-spy’s creator Ian Fleming painted his hero into countless pleasure palace scenarios right from the character’s inception. Indeed, the very first Bond novel Casino Royale – published in 1952 – includes the casino from which it takes its name as a key setting.
Throughout the Bond series (both on paper and on screen), 007 uses his wits to make good in a variety of casino scenarios, variously wooing women, winning respect or just about saving the world in the process. Fleming’s character gives the casino industry a great talisman, possessing not only immense gaming skill, but noble intentions too. He’s still a casino regular to this day – look no further than 2012 film Skyfall – in which 007 visits a Macao casino that’s practically wallpapered in gold leaf – for proof. Next thing you know, we’ll be watching him logging on to Jackpot Capital casino online as he quaffs his trademark martini.
Unfortunately it goes without saying that the British aren’t all as good as gold, and whilst we’ve provided casino folklore with possibly its greatest hero, we’ve helped to colour the character of the gambling underworld too. The image of the seedy back room Soho gentlemen’s club, grubby men wearing ill-fitting suits in block colours, the tattered playing cards and the constant presence of cigarette smoke. It all stems from good ol’ Blighty.
This ‘dodgy’ back room image has never been better depicted than in an episode of cult noughties Channel 4 comedy Black Books. The episode, ‘A Little Flutter’ sees wily book-selling anti-hero Bernard Black – who has developed a taste for betting on horses – lured away from a bookmakers by a cunning card shark, who sets about fleecing the inexperienced Bernard in a game of poker. Smartly dressed but rough around the edges, the nefarious character perfectly embodies the British card shark stereotype.
These examples only scratch the surface of the way in which Britain has influenced the global culture surrounding the casino industry. From the swinging sixties with its underground gaming culture to the present day, in which new British online casinos are turning heads around the world, Great Britain really does have its own special place at the top table of casino culture.