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‘Why does this place exist?’: Dundee croupier and former gambling addict open up about casino life

Dealer Victoria stood behind the tables; addict Lucy** sat in front of them. While one made a meagre living, another almost lost her life.

Ex-Dundee croupier Victoria Jensen doesn't think casinos have a place in the city. Image: Paul Reid/DC Thomson
Ex-Dundee croupier Victoria Jensen doesn't think casinos have a place in the city. Image: Paul Reid/DC Thomson

The first time that Victoria Jensen walked into a casino, she wasn’t looking to spend money – she was trying to make some.

But unlike the hopeful punters coming into the Grosvenor casino on Dundee’s Marketgait to place a bet, Victoria wasn’t gambling.

She was interviewing for a job as a croupier, and at 22 years old, she thought it would be “a cakewalk”.

“I dunno what this says about my family, but when I was a kid, we used to play blackjack and I used to deal it as a joke, to my parents and my brother,” laughs Newcastle-born Victoria, now aged 24.

“But not for money, just to play!” she adds hastily. “I never, ever gambled before I worked in the casino.”

We’re speaking two days after Victoria has resigned from her job as a senior dealer at Grosvenor Dundee. Two full years living as a “creature of the night” with her casino family has been enough for her.

“It’s a joke between all my friends and my family, because you just go missing, essentially,” she reveals. “Like, you’re a vampire!”

Ex-croupier Victoria Jensen shuffles the deck. Image: Paul Reid/DC Thomson

On a typical workday, Victoria would wake up around 7pm, eat breakfast, then go to work around 9pm, arriving home again as the sun was rising around 5.30am.

“It does affect your life,” she admits. “When we’re awake, everything’s closed. We are like a family, because we’re the only people we see.

“Tip your croupiers – we’re poor and lonely!”

Victoria’s story: ‘People go into the casino and become weird versions of themselves’

And although Victoria speaks fondly of her “fun” life as a croupier, she admits that a casino is a “really stressful, really tough” environment to work in.

After six intensive weeks of training on how to deal roulette, blackjack and three-card-poker, she was given her shiny shoes and “pretty sore” 1920s-style arm garters, and turned loose on the tables.

Standing in front of a mixture of seasoned gamblers, casual players, party animals and lost souls, Victoria was forced to deal with anything the nightlife of Dundee threw at her face-on – literally.

“You have to face the front, always,” she explains. “And have your hands out. There’s about a trillion rules, like having to use certain hands for certain things, always.”

And she soon found out that being a croupier was never just about dealing cards and handling chips.

She was “an entertainer” to some customers, “a therapist” to others, and a secret observer of the night-time personas that few people really get to see.

The croupier spins with left or right hand depending on the direction of the roulette wheel. Image: Shutterstock

“It’s like a little universe in itself. People go into the casino and just become weird versions of themselves,” she laughs

“We’ll get older guys who are quite proper, but then when they’re sat at a table they’ll turn into a child. People will just break out dancing, they’ll just do the worm on the floor. They’ll take their clothes off, they’ll do laps of the casino high-fiving all the staff.

“We get people who just want to chat and not to gamble at all. It’s like therapy – but sometimes you’re taking their money and/or giving them money!”

But for a worrying number of individuals, Victoria was not just a friendly face. She was a helpless target for their torrid sexual fantasies.

‘Get your hands off the table – and off me!’

“Being a male dealer is totally different to being a female dealer,” Victoria says matter-of-factly.

“A male dealer will get customers who are like ‘I hate you’ or ‘you’re my best friend’. As a female dealer, you get those, but you also get the creeps.”

Victoria says all this with a feistiness and a giggle, boasting that she perfected her famous piercing “look” as a fool-proof method of quieting troublesome punters as she “wasn’t really given any training in how to deal with customers like that”.

But there’s a vulnerability and weariness under her bluster.

“I’ve had people follow me around tables, proposing to me and hitting on me constantly,” she adds quietly, revealing that she has let the tears fall while continuing to deal cards more than once. “Or grab my hands and stroke my arms.

“I’ve even had people come round the ropes and try and hold me – it’s madness! People have no boundaries. Like, get your hands off the table and off me!”

Victoria gives her signature ‘stop it’ look to the camera. Image: Paul Reid/DC Thomson

Asked if other male customers at the table ever pipe up when the croupier is being abused, she smiles sadly: “It’s rare. But the people I worked with were really good.

“I’ve had people waiting outside for me after my shift and things, but they were escorted away or banned.”

Indeed, Grosvenor Casino’s Scottish operations manager Gavin Lee confirmed when asked that: “Unacceptable behaviour from customers is extremely rare in our clubs, but on those few occasions where it takes place, we don’t tolerate it and will bar customers if required.

Victoria has had customers waiting for her after her shift at Grosvenor Dundee after subjecting her to torrents of sexualised verbal abuse. Image: Google Maps

“Our highly trained team not only deal popular casino games, they are also experienced in providing confidential support to customers around safer gambling which is at the heart of our business.”*

Because of course, misogyny isn’t the only ugly side of casino culture. There’s the money too.

‘I made £4.50 while he lost £50k’

For Victoria, watching so much hard-earned cash being lost by residents of Dundee, a city rife with visible poverty and addiction issues, was difficult.

“At the beginning it was tough counting my rent in front of my eyes, and then putting it in a bin,” she admits.

“But you get used to it, seeing money as nothing essentially.

“I remember having a guy drop like £50,000 and he lost it in half an hour,” she continues in whisper.

“I’m making about £9 an hour. So I made £4.50 while he lost £50K. And I helped him!”

Victoria said she can’t help but feel guilty when people lose money at her tables. Image: DC Thomson

Although she knows logically that “it’s people’s choice to spend their money in a casino” Victoria admits she “can’t help but feel guilty” about facilitating gambling in some cases – especially since the croupiers are categorically “not on the side of the house”.

“If someone’s really nice, and it’s their first time gambling and they put £20 down and they lose it, I do feel guilty. I do, every time,” Victoria confesses, admitting that sometimes she’d give novice players hints even though she wasn’t allowed to.

“I’d be like ‘I’m really sorry for doing my job, I hate myself’.

“None of that money goes to me, so I’d rather see you win it and have a good day than lose it and have a bad day.”

And though she insists there are “so many things in place to make the casino fair” such as background checks for big spenders, Victoria admits she’s seen first hand what can happen when people “fall through the cracks”.

‘Is it worth having the horrible to have the fun?’

Against the backdrop of last year’s tightened gambling laws in Scotland to combat the rising issue of problem gambling, her first-hand account puts faces to the figures.

“They’re sweating and they’re betting and you just know that it’s their last money,” she says, a cloud coming across her expression.

“And when they lose, you can tell, and it’s horrible. I just think: ‘Why does this place exist?’

Victoria Jensen loves playing casino games – but wonders if the reward is worth the risk. Image: Paul Reid/DC Thomson

“It can be fun, but the other side of that is that it can be horrible. So is it worth having the horrible to have the fun? I dunno.

“Gambling is a cruel mistress.”

And no one knows that better than Dundee woman Lucy**, who lost everything she had to a gambling addiction which started off in a casino when she was just an 18-year-old student on an ordinary night out.

Lucy’s story: ‘Instead of change, I got a chip. That was all it took’

“I went to the casino initially purely just to continue on the party, to go for a drink, ” says Lucy.

“When I bought my first drink in the casino, rather than normal cash change, I got a chip. And that’s what led me to place my first bet at a casino, because I had this chip.

“I won a little bit of money that night. It wasn’t a lot, but that was really all it took for me to get completely hooked. And really the casino became my life from there.”

The next six years saw Lucy’s life spiral out of control as addiction took hold. As a student she began missing lectures, spending “all day and all evening” at the casino.

After graduating, she began working full-time, but still spent all her spare time – and all her money – at the blackjack and roulette tables.

It only took one chip to send Lucy into a spiral of gambling addict and debt which would ruin her life over six years. Image: Shutterstock

First the bank of mum and dad and then “thousands of pounds in payday loans” kept Lucy enabled in active addiction; she constantly told herself she would win back enough to cover what she’d lost.

“I’d end up taking out a payday loan to pay off a payday loan, and then take out another payday loan to gamble,” reveals Lucy.

“I kept thinking ‘I’m going to win myself out of this, I’ll get the money to pay off all my payday loans’ and I probably got to the point where I could’ve taken that money and done that.

“But because I was addicted to gambling, no amount of money was ever going to be enough. I had a massive ego and cripplingly low self-esteem.”

‘I couldn’t afford a pint of milk’

It was only when her partner found out that she was in months’ worth of rent and council tax arrears, and she had exhausted all credit cards and payday loans, that Lucy was forced to admit she had a problem.

“I was literally in a place where I didn’t have a single penny to my name, I just had loads of debt. I couldn’t afford a pint of milk,” says Lucy candidly.

“It totally took me to a rock bottom where I just absolutely hated myself, hated what I’d done to my family and to my partner. I had to reach out for help.”

With help from Gamblers Anonymous***, Lucy has turned her life around and is coming up on seven years without gambling.

Now for her, anything to do with betting – casinos, bookies, Grand National races on TV – is a no-go zone now.

Asked if she was ever turned away by a casino or betting establishment due to background checks at the height of her addiction, she says she wasn’t.

“I don’t think I was ever refused, no. I was putting on this front to all the people who worked there that I was doing really well.

“But it was ultimately my choice to go in and spend whatever little money I had – no matter what kind of means I went through to get it.”

*Response from Gavin Lee, Operations Manager for Grosvenor Casinos in Scotland, in full: “Unacceptable behaviour from customers is extremely rare in our clubs, but on those few occasions where it takes place, we don’t tolerate it and will bar customers if required.

“We pride ourselves on offering an enjoyable and responsible gaming experience for all our customers and team members.   

“We are sorry to hear that one of our former colleagues experienced clearly unacceptable behaviour first hand.

“We encourage all our team to report any incidents which, in any way, may make them feel uncomfortable and we provide confidential support and advice to team members in these circumstances. 

“Qualifying as a croupier is a rewarding profession and Grosvenor Casinos upskills and employs hundreds of aspiring casino dealers every year through its dedicated gaming academy programme.

“Our highly trained team not only deal popular casino games, they are also experienced in providing confidential support to customers around safer gambling which is at the heart of our business.”  

** Lucy’s name has been changed for the sake of preserving anonymity.

*** If you have been affected by the issues in this article, please reach out for help. Alexia Clifford, GambleAware Chief Communications Officer said: “Gambling harms are a serious public health issue and can affect anyone. Too often, feelings of shame or embarrassment can prevent people talking about problems or accessing support.

”Anyone worried about how gambling makes them feel can find free and confidential advice, tools and support by searching GambleAware or contacting the National Gambling Helpline, available 24/7, on 0808 8020 133.”