Insight: Why casino world will again be welcomed by the Hippodrome

Insight: Why casino world will again be welcomed by the Hippodrome

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 Totally Gaming
Simon Thomas is excited about the International Casino Conference's return to the Hippodrome

For a venue that is as much about entertainment as gambling, it is maybe fitting that the Hippodrome Casino will return for an encore as the host of the 2016 ICE International Casino Conference (ICC).

The 2015 event was a huge success at the UK’s biggest casino, situated in the heart of London’s West End, with the biggest names from the industry converging on the four-floor, 45-table venue.

Key topics to be discussed at the ICC will include the customer experience, regulation, innovation and social casino, and Hippodrome co-owner and chief executive Simon Thomas believes that attendees will benefit greatly from the opportunity to learn and network in an iconic venue that has hosted the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Houdini and Stevie Wonder since it was first opened more than a century ago.

“The event is a much-valued opportunity to meet all of the important people from the industry,” Thomas said. “No one has a monopoly on wisdom, and I’m sure there will be great advice that we can all pick up.

“For us at the Hippodrome it’s gruelling, as we have the days at the show and then, in the evening, the entire global casino sector wants to come over and see what we are up to. It was brilliant last year, and so good that they wanted to do it again.” 

The staging of a casino conference at the Hippodrome showcases what can be achieved through the multipurpose strategy that has been such a success for the venue since Thomas and his father, Jimmy, formerly hugely successful bingo hall and arcade entrepreneurs, opened the doors in July 2012.

In the last three-and-a-half years, more than five million people have visited the Hippodrome, many to gamble, many to enjoy the cabaret acts, many to attend seminars and some to simply sample the award-winning steaks served up in the restaurant.

While Thomas has been somewhat surprised by the speed of the venue’s growth – and admits to a few sleepless nights after beginning the £45m (€60.8m/$66.7m) revamp in 2009 - he was certain that a combination of events had given him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take the UK’s casino industry to the next level.  

“The planets came into line,” he said. “We sold the bingo halls in the early 2000s in a strong credit market and looked at taking all of our experience to the casino sector. Not long after, the Hippodrome lost its alcohol licence, and seemed like the perfect building for us to take over. It was steeped in the entertainment world of the UK, and on a site just above Leicester Square tube station with around a quarter of a million people walking past each day.

“For me, there was the disadvantage of a lack of experience in the casino industry, but an advantage of being able to challenge what is done.”

Thomas believes there are at least two more years of growth for the Hippodrome, and is hoping to expand through the purchase of the adjacent Crystal Rooms. However, he believes that a key topic for the industry is the regulatory change that he feels is needed to allow UK venues to improve their offering to the public. 

“We are stuck with the ridiculous situation of just 20 gaming machines allowed in UK venues, which is farcical," he said.“At some stage that will be corrected - it has to be - and the changes that will effect will be positive, with very little negative. 

"Firstly, it will put gaming machines in the correct place, rather than on the high street. Secondly, we are turning away foreign income as tourists ask to play on the machines and we have to tell them to wait in line as they are all busy.

"The Hippodrome is a good example to the government and the public of what a casino can deliver through a multi-site and multi-product strategy in a very safe environment."

* ICE takes place at London's ExCel Centre from February 2-4. For updates on ICE 2016 and to register for tickets, visit: www.icetotallygaming.com

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