When you walk into the great temples of the world, they invoke a sense of comfort and serenity; a place where time seems to cease to exist. Something I, like many before me no doubt, felt upon walking into the Grosvenor Victoria Casino. And really, why should it not? Some might have the smell of incense or the chanting of a choir to soothe the spirit; we have the familiar clinking of chips and shuffling of cards.
If poker was a religion, the Vic would be her London temple.
Which would make Tom Scott poker's high priest. Although he usually goes under the more conventional job title of Poker Team Leader, co-managing the Vic's poker room.
Although the Vic boasts a proud and illustrious history, "competition" is something Scott states as being one of the biggest challenges of his role. Watching the "MoneyMaker Effect" from within the live setting, he has seen the poker room grow from a small and almost exclusive club to an open forum, which plays host to everyone from recreational players to some of the world's biggest cash-game giants.
"The eclectic mix means you have new players who are literally sitting 20 feet away from their idols, so there can be a lot of name dropping!" laughs Scott.
Scott then adds, "In terms of big names, from the States we have Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Patrik Antonious. Then from the Brit side, we have Victoria Coren Mitchell, Praz Bansi, Neil Channing, and Patrick Swartz. I think anyone who is anyone, certainly in UK poker, would have played here with us in one form or another. Just on its legacy, and the fact its put a lot of effort into providing a good poker service and excellent training for dealers, means it is the best place to play poker in the UK."
Legacy, of course, is an apt word to use when describing a venue like the Vic, but does having the weight of years weigh heavily for Scott while on the job?
"Most definitely!" he says enthusiastically. "Particularly with this venue serving as the Grosvenor flagship, and on the other foot with this being the longest-running poker room in the UK. That comes with its own pressures, but it is a nice pressure to have.
"I work with my colleague Andy Beer, the other team leader. We're both fairly new to the role, having been it in for about a year. We took over from a manager called Jeff Lee, who was very much ingrained into the culture of the poker room. So we saw it as David Moyes taking over Alex Ferguson at Manchester United — big shoes to fill. But the difference being, we're still here."
If it is as high-pressured a job as Scott describes, he shows no outward hint of it as we sip drinks in the sleek eatery area next to the teeming card tables. He looks cooly serene, and even suited appears far younger than his 34 years.
All the more impressive when you consider his job — managing a game which statistically has around six losers to every winner. How does he cope when tempers start to flare?
"It's an emotional game," he concedes. "There's money involved, and that can run from £50 to £50,000. Sometimes players feel hard done by, or there may be a human error. My job is to be as consistent as possible and fair, which usually means neither party is entirely satisfied.
"Those sorts of situations are never black and white, but you stay true to the rule book. Common sense comes into it as well. If you get a player who is really upset, it's good to try and sit down with them and explain why you made the judgement."
When talking about the live arena of poker, conversation naturally turns to the world of offline, and I wonder how a place like the Vic has coped with many players choosing screens over sit-down tables. What have they done to combat such a wide-scale movement?
As it turns out, the Vic did the opposite, and embraced it.
"Personally, I think online poker is a good thing," Scott says. "We allow players to use their devices at the table to play. Of course, Grosvenor has its own online offering as well, so there is a good crossover there and it serves both ways. Poker has been a social game since its infancy — bars in America where you sit down and play with your friends — and you're never going to replace that with multiple screens and a chat box."
But keeping that social game rolling at the Vic is Scott's job, and I'm curious as to what makes up a typical day in the life of a poker room manager, if there even is such a thing.
"My day typically involves deciding what games to open, running a break list, and juggling staff for tournaments as well as cash games," he begins. "Making sure that dealers are rotated frequently so they’re not stuck at one table. Making sure the waitress service is good. Contact with people from head office. Private and corporate events. It's very wide ranging, and then of course we host big poker tours, which come with their own logistical challenges. It's 24 hours, a job around the clock. But that's the casino business. At the Vic, whatever game you wish to play, we'll have something for you."
And Scott is clearly a man determined to keep pushing that "something" forward. Not content to let the Vic's poker room rest on her (admittedly large) laurels, part of his role is to constantly look for new ways innovate.
"One thing players are very used to in Vegas is electronic table management," Scott says. "They'll swipe in at the tables, and dealers can communicate with the desk using an electronic terminal. This handles things like valet service, more chips, etc. We're developing a new system like that and it's going to hit the tables in July. I believe it will be the first for any poker room in the UK."
Despite a list of challenges which would perplex even the most hardened PA, Scott is clearly a man confident in his career and taming the poker clique which comes with it. He cites the social aspect — talking with the Vic's colourful clientele — as one of the role's biggest benefits.
"The poker room in a casino creates an atmosphere all its own," he says fondly. "It's the clinking of the chips, the calls coming through. For me, going to any casino which doesn't have a poker room? It just feels strange."