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Interview with Lee Johnston, Victoria Gate Casino Poker Manager

Lee Johnston

The Victoria Gate Casino opened in Leeds, Yorkshire almost a year ago to the day and has quickly become a popular venue for gamblers and revellers looking for a night out in the north.

Alongside the various bars, gaming tables and the flashing lights of the hundreds of slots is the poker room, which has Lee Johnston at its helm. I first met Lee while I was working as a live reporter for the World Poker Tour National UK tour. You have likely bumped into him over the years, if you haven’t, I’ll leave it to the man himself to let you know a little more about himself.

“I have had a passion for poker for as long as I can remember. I used to watch and play poker with my parents, and so it seemed natural to pursue this interest as a career.
 
I have worked in the gaming industry for over 20 years, and in that time, I have worked on all the major poker tours and in many casinos across Europe. I spent two years as the World Poker Tour Tournament Manager and have been involved in organising and setting up poker events and festivals that were televised and live streamed around the world.

The directors, Paul Sculpher and Patrick Noakes, the head of gaming Scott Kincaid and the rest of the VGC team have been extremely supportive in developing our poker department and must also take credit for what is proving to be a very successful venture.

 
In December 2016, I became the poker manager at the Victoria Gate Casino.  We continue to grow poker and aim to deliver an unrivalled poker experience in Leeds and the surrounding area, by creating big prize pools and offering a remarkable variety of cash games.”

Most poker room managers come into a poker room that is already well-established, but Johnston had nothing to work with other than an actual poker room, his experience and the backing of the casino’s management team who believed in Johnston’s ability to build a successful poker product for the venue.

“I agree that it is always going to be a challenge but having been involved in poker start-ups in the past, and having been involved in the creation of clubs such as DTD and Fox Poker Club, I knew what had to be done. At the same time, it is an opportunity to apply successful lessons from the past and try out new ideas and see them develop.
 
The directors, Paul Sculpher and Patrick Noakes, the head of gaming Scott Kincaid and the rest of the VGC team have been extremely supportive in developing our poker department and must also take credit for what is proving to be a very successful venture.”

The poker room has capacity for 15 tables on a normal night; this can be expanded to 25 for the casino’s major tournaments. It is a poker room that has become a focal point for poker tournaments and cash games in Leeds and looks to be going from strength-to-strength.

“We have sought to offer unrivalled variety. We offer a game for all bankrolls and the biggest guarantees in northern England. Each tournament averages 130 entries each night and weekends are even busier often reaching 200 entries.
 
Our bi-monthly tournaments can attract prize pools of almost £30,000 – that is nearly 400 entries for a £75+£10 buy-in.
 
Cash games are also popular. Regular £1/£1 and £1/£2 Texas Hold’em games run nightly (excluding Tuesday). And on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday you will regularly see three £2/£2 Omaha games in play.”

It was a tournament held over the festive period that Johnstone says is the poker room’s best achievement so far and one that showed how far the venue had come in terms of attracting players in substantial numbers.

We have sought to offer unrivalled variety. We offer a game for all bankrolls and the biggest guarantees in northern England. Each tournament averages 130 entries each night and weekends are even busier often reaching 200 entries.

Victoria Gate Casino put up a £50,000 guarantee for only a £110 buy-in for the VGC Christmas Bonanza. We hit a massive 830 entries and £83,000 was paid out in prize money. It was the biggest poker tournament in the whole of the UK both in terms of entries and prize money over the Christmas period.”

Johnston and his team have a poker room that has the most competitive rake structure in the whole of the United Kingdom, a Royal Flush jackpot that currently stands at £5,000 and are working some exciting promotions in the coming weeks.

Also on the horizon is a £20,000 guaranteed tournament to celebrate the poker room’s first birthday. Dubbed the “Poker Birthday Bash,” the tournament is a £75+£10 buy-in affair with a £20,000 guarantee to be held on Feb. 9. Registration is open now at the casino and online at partypoker, who Johnston and his team have started a blossoming relationship.

There are still plenty of poker players who haven’t ventured into Leeds’ crown jewel yet, but Johnston wants that to change because anyone not visiting the casino really are missing out.

“There has been a noticeable increase in popularity in Poker in Yorkshire and the North over the last year. Alongside the promotion of poker on television, I believe VGC has also played a big part in this growth. Victoria Gate Casino has successfully sought to meet the growth of interest in poker, our players and staff have done a fantastic job in building the community and welcoming both new and old players back in to the game. We look forward in continuing to deliver a fantastic experience for our customers in 2018!”

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  • Lee Johnston, poker room manager of Leeds' Victoria Gate Casino, chats exclusively to UK & Ireland PokerNews.

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