Shortly after Kenya gained independence from the United Kingdom, gambling was legalised in “the cradle of humanity”. The country’s Betting Control and Licensing Board continues to oversee the gambling industry, across its land-based and online sectors. Despite the full legalisation of gambling, classic card games like Texas Hold ’em poker have failed to catch on here as much as in the western world. But there are signs that the country is beginning to embrace poker in a bigger way.

The number-one sign? The five licensed, land-based poker rooms operational across the country’s two biggest cities, Nairobi and Mombasa. If Kenya continues in the same vein, it could become Africa’s leading hub for land-based poker events. As its reputation rises, so too will the calibre of players that consider entering local tournaments. While the richest US poker players tend to stick to America for the big bucks on offer at the World Series of Poker and events in western Europe, there is every chance they could be enticed to Africa’s east coast if the prize pool was meaty enough.

If you were unaware of the rise in fully licensed and regulated land-based poker rooms in the Kenyan capital, and Mombasa, read on as we outline the most reputable and exciting places to try your hand at Texas Hold ’em poker.

Bollywood Casino, Royal Orchid Hotel (Nairobi)

You’ll find the poker room of Bollywood Casino inside the Royal Orchid Azure Hotel in the Westlands district of Nairobi. Typically open from midday until 4 am daily, Bollywood Casino has cemented itself as the home of Kenya’s biggest poker tournament prize pools. It also specialises in poker cash games, with three formats of the game proving popular among cash game players – Texas Hold ’em, 3 Card Poker and the unique Indian Ocean Stud Poker.

Each week, the Bollywood Casino poker room stages a Texas Hold’em poker tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of KES 100,000. Although this only equates to a little over $900, it has a history of staging tournaments with much bigger payouts. In 2018, it hosted the “Bollymillions” tournament with a $350 buy-in and a $40,000 guaranteed payout.

Diamond Poker Room, Diamond Plaza Shopping Centre (Nairobi)

The Diamond Casino is situated within the Diamond Plaza Shopping Centre, which helps to drive significant footfall among residents in the Parklands suburbs. Open daily from 10 am until 5 am, the Diamond Casino is a perfect place to hone your poker skills, day or night. Aside from its brand-new slot machines, its live poker room is where you will find much of the action.

There are five and seven-card poker games hosted across its two tables daily, while guaranteed tournaments are staged every weekend to maximise the size of the audience. The Diamond Casino only reopened back in 2015 under new ownership, and its refurbishment has also helped to create a more sophisticated gaming floor that appeals to newcomers and seasoned card players alike.

Captain’s Club Casino (Nairobi)

There aren’t many as lavish and decadent places to enjoy Texas Hold’em poker as the Captain’s Club Casino on the Mombasa Road. From the moment you walk through the door, you will be struck by the charming, relaxed atmosphere and the luxury interiors that make you feel like you are playing in Monte Carlo.

The poker room here only offers Texas Hold ’em poker cash and tournament games, which will disappoint those who enjoy variants like Omaha. Its table traffic is impressive at weekends, so you can be sure of some meaty tournament prize pools and plenty of action at the cash game tables. Cash games can be opened upon request, providing there are enough players to make it worthwhile for the casino. Outside the poker room, the Captain’s Club Casino also has a bustling nightlife, with live music and DJs booked most weekends.

Overlooking the Indian Ocean, Mombasa’s Casino Malindi is undoubtedly one of Kenya’s most picturesque places to enjoy a game of poker. It is nearby the little-known Mambrui beach, which is one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Kenya. Currently open from 9 am until 11 pm daily, Casino Malindi offers a variety of poker games at its tables. Texas Hold ’em remains the most popular poker variant, but 3 Card Poker and the aptly named Indian Ocean Stud Poker is also offered regularly here.

This resort has been open since 1991, and its variety of casino gaming is one of the main reasons why residents and tourists flock here year-in, year-out. It has approximately 27,500 square feet of gaming floor space, which not only houses the poker room but its 50+ slot machines and additional table games including blackjack, French roulette, and craps.

Casinomax Poker Room (Mombasa)

Like Nairobi’s Diamond Casino, the Casinomax facility in Mombasa is situated inside the Nyali Cinemax Shopping Complex, approaching the north coast of the city. The Casinomax poker room is open from 2 pm until 5 am daily and regularly runs a string of poker games, including Texas Hold ’em, 3 Card Poker and Oasis Poker. The latter is a variant on the original Caribbean Stud Poker, played against the dealer as opposed to the other players at the table.

The Casinomax is also a stylish place to hang out for snacks and cocktails. The casino’s Salle Prive bar is open nightly from 9 pm and there are a handful of popular eateries a stone’s throw from the casino floor inside the Cinemax complex. In terms of its other casino gaming, its slot machines often carry huge progressive jackpots, which can pay out up to KES 1,000,000.