POKER LIFESTYLE

The History of Madrid’s Casino Gran Via Poker Room, with David Luzago

By Mike Patrick
October 02, 2023

Along with managing the Casino Gran Via poker room, David Camara Luzago also hosts a weekly Spanish poker radio show and is an avid player himself. In his second stint with the casino, and currently with the property since 2018, Luzago is deeply entrenched in the Spanish poker scene. He and his team have built Casino Gran Via’s poker room into the premier poker destination in Madrid and one of the most popular and successful rooms in Western Europe.

Casino Gran Via entryway

With the 2023 WPT Prime being the latest major poker festival at Casino Gran Via, Cardplayer Lifestyle received an exclusive interview with Luzago who told us about the extensive history of the casino and its poker room, the unique challenges and benefits of being centrally located in the heart of Madrid, and how one of America’s most polarizing figures in the casino industry inadvertently brought a new level of prosperity to Casino Gran Via while trying to expand his own empire.

Gorgeous, Historic Architecture in Central Madrid

One of five major casinos in the region, though the rest are further from Casino Gran Via’s incredible location in the heart of the city, Luzago immediately sang the praises of the historic building that his poker room is housed inside.

“This is an astonishing palace. It’s 100 years old. It has a lot of history in the middle of right now one of the safest, most modern capitals in Europe. This is where everybody wants to come. You see it in the streets, so full of tourism, and the best thing is it’s in the middle of the city, the absolute middle. We have so many nationalities here, and that makes it wonderful to be here and to play here because there are so many cultures from around the world.”

As Luzago mentioned, Casino Gran Via’s home inside one of the many historic buildings of Old Madrid will turn 100 years old in 2024. A walk through the Gran Via area shows incredible classic Spanish architecture everywhere you look, with centuries-old buildings home to modern restaurants and fashion franchises. Luzago said the casino, and his poker room, along with all these buildings in the area are restricted by some unique rules.

“The other casinos in Madrid, some of them are outside the city, so they’re more for locals, they’re not that well positioned, and of course, they don’t have the beauty of the architecture of this historic casino, which is protected by the cultural laws. You can not touch a thing because you have to ask for permission every single time you change something because it’s protected. It’s a huge advantage. It’s something different.”

“If it’s a minor change like we’re going to change the carpet, we do all the time, because it gets old. You can do that, you don’t have to ask for anything. But if you want to modify one door or try to throw away a little wall because you want to open space, or change a window somehow, it’s impossible. You can not modify the actual look of the building because this is part of Old Madrid, and the buildings have to look like they were looking 100 years ago.”

Creative Marketing = Poker Success in Madrid

A casino’s ability to promote and market itself is a key element to success. Fortunately for Luzago and the casino, its location is its biggest selling point and it has to be because, outside of social media, Casino Gran Via and the poker room are limited in how they can promote themselves.

“With publicity, you can not have casino letters extremely huge because you will damage the image of the building. It has to be little; it has to be nice, and it has to be harmonic with the image of the casino. We can not advertise poker outside. We can do it on social media of course, but not in the casino itself. Outside we can not put big screens with World Poker Tour promotion. We are not allowed to show or advertise to people walking in the street, it’s not possible… because gaming is regulated in Spain and publicity is regulated.”

Sheldon Adelson’s Accidental Poker Legacy in Madrid

The Gran Via poker room has grown significantly over the years, and its existence in its current location wasn’t even possible until the early 2010s when something that could have potentially killed the existing local poker scene instead turned into a huge blessing, especially for Luzago’s room.

“There was a law that you needed to be at least 30 kilometers away from the center of the city because of gaming regulations… It was probably 2010 or 2011 around then when Sheldon Adelson… tried to build ‘EuroVegas’ here. He tried hard and he got an agreement with a state committee of Madrid about building many casinos, many hotels, many convention centers, golf courses, and stuff in a huge place in Madrid.”

With Adelson’s massive project looming, threatening their profitability and potentially even their existence, a pair of local casinos made their plea to expand into the center of the capital to ensure their survival.

“Everything changed because (two of the casinos) outside the city said ‘Well what about me? You’re going to build in Madrid a huge extension, you’re going to build like eight or ten casinos. What about us? We’re going to die because we are 30 kilometers away, so we need a solution.’ The state said don’t worry, you can build one, you can make one in the center of Madrid if you want… so you can open a secondary place, with limited tables (and) very strict publicity, but you can do it.”

READ MORE: Gran Via – A Prime Location for WPT Prime Madrid

But later on, Adelson eventually changed his mind and instead focused on expanding his corporate footprint in Macau and Asia. While Adelson and his Las Vegas Sands corporation claimed the project failed because of the Spanish government’s refusal to lower the tax rate on gambling, in actuality the government refused multiple Adelson demands for his project. Indeed, Adelson’s vision of a 750-hectare mega complex in the southwestern Madrid region of Alcorcon to be known as ‘EuroVegas’ failed because of the tycoon’s demands which included changes in legislation, privileges for promoters, exceeding the maximum legal height for the project’s promised skyscrapers, permission to smoke in closed public spaces, and more.

“The committee said we cannot accept this, it’s impossible. So, they broke their relationship and he didn’t build EuroVegas. But, by that point, the two casinos were already running inside Madrid, so we benefitted from Sheldon’s idea and we are now running this amazing casino in this amazing building because of him. That let us be inside of Madrid, otherwise, we’d have still been 30 km away.” Casino Gran Via was now firmly entrenched in the heart of Madrid, and Luzago and the property have expanded their poker footprint in the city center ever since.

David Luzago

A Player-First Mentality at Casino Gran Via’s Poker Room

“We are very proud of our poker room because we know where we come from. We started here with two cash tables in a small room years ago and now we have one big floor just for poker in this building that has only three gaming floors. We have one full floor just for poker in the middle of Madrid! This a dream we have achieved, and we are very proud of this.”

Luzago knows that despite his room’s success, there is always room for more, but he has the perfect situation and team to do it with.

“I think the best point is, we know our limitations, space limitations, and we know we have a long way to go. I would never say this is the best place in the world for playing poker; I know what we need and I know our limitations. However, here you are playing poker in the middle of a great city with a very high level of professionality. Our waiters, our dealers, our floors, they treat you very nice. We are very gentle, we are very dedicated; we are very close with the local player community, and this closeness is very Spanish also.”

“I think we make a good atmosphere for the players. I’m a poker player myself so I always try to listen to what players want. I prefer that the player is happy, more than even my company because I know if the player is happy, even if the company is not in that moment, they will be in the future, and that’s what happens. We are the only casino offering poker in Madrid. We’ve got the full market because we deserve it. We’ve worked so hard for that, and we offer what players want and we are very proud of that.”

David Luzago and WPT staff

For a first-hand understanding of what it’s like to play cash games and tournaments in Madrid’s Casino Gran Via poker room, check outA Day of Play at WPT Prime Madrid: Driving Down the Opposite Side of the Road.”

*All images in the article are used courtesy of the World Poker Tour

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Mike Patrick poker author
Written By.

Mike Patrick

A veteran of both the Canadian sports media industry and poker scene, Mike has made the jump into poker media with cardplayerlifestyle.com. Having worked his way from intern to television producer and from home game hero to semi-professional poker player, Mike brings knowledge and a competitive outlook from his experiences in the newsroom and at […]

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