Happy Birthday!

When the Hippodrome’s owners announced their plan to create a totally different kind of London gaming and entertainment venue, there were sceptics. It’s fair to say that the last five years of trading has seen those sceptics not just silenced, but largely transformed into fans of what has become an iconic gaming institution in central London.

We asked owner Simon Thomas a few questions about the ride…

Casino International: How has the Hippodrome evolved over the five years you’ve been open – both physically and in terms of the offering to customers? Has the project moved and grown in the way you expected?

Simon Thomas: As a father of three, the most pertinent metaphor is that opening the Hippodrome is very similar to the experiences of a father celebrating the birth of a new baby. In its initial months it required constant attention and round-the-clock monitoring (as well as dealing with a load of crap and sleepless nights). But as it grows, it has developed a personality that we nurtured and encouraged, guiding it along the way. And now I’m the very proud dad of a five year old that I just know is going to continue to grow into something that helps redefine how the public and politicians view casinos in this country. We’ve worked incredibly hard to build something that fully embraces the enlightened changes in the 2005 Gambling Act. I hope we’ve shown what can be achieved. And there’s a lot more to come.

CI: How has the online offering complemented the casino? How closely does it work in a marketing sense, how has it developed, and how do you see this developing?

ST: We were determined to build an online offer that reflected the excitement and scope of the ‘clubhouse’ itself. By working with some key partners at the very top of their game – Betway, Neteller, PokerStars, Evolution – we’ve been able to deliver an impressive online platform that has generated substantial activity, while encouraging those players to visit the bricks-and-mortar venue through real-life tournament play. The live dealer feeds from Lola’s Underground Casino have proved exceptionally popular.

CI: What has been your proudest moment in the five years of business?

ST: There have been many moments of great satisfaction. The first night as we managed to get it open, getting cash positive, customer levels way above expectations, fantastic customer feedback, but perhaps more fun, there are moments I look back on where I smile at the, frankly, unbelievable diversity of my own day. I can be in the House of Commons in the morning, lunch with a pop star who’s appearing in the theatre here then welcoming 600 NFL fans in the evening. I was though, especially proud when we kicked up a fuss about the media’s somewhat indiscriminate use of the term ‘casino banking’ during the latter days of the economic crisis. Taking a stance ended up with us welcoming the Bishop of Liverpool onto the main gaming floor in full Bishop’s regalia to discuss the terminology on the BBC. That was memorable.

But for a major ‘I must be doing something right’ moment, there was an evening when I was watching Dire Straits in our cabaret theatre and I was tapped on the shoulder by one of my managers who said Miss World was in the bar with Miss England and wanted to say hello. Life doesn’t get much better than that, surely?