Returning to The Hippodrome Casino

By Gambling Insider
This year's Global Gaming Awards London presentation ceremony will once again be hosted at the fabulous Hippodrome Casino. We spoke to Simon Thomas, CEO of the property.

What is it like to be able to host the Global Gaming Awards London at the Hippodrome Casino again?

It’s a huge privilege. We get to welcome people across a fascinating range of companies, individuals at the top of their game and at the forefront of innovation. But let’s face it we also love to show off what the Hippodrome can offer. There’s always something new to talk about and the majority of us haven’t seen each other for two years or more.

What are you looking forward to most about the event?

Dare I say, winning an award? It’s certainly a prestigious trophy. Aside from that, it’s all about the people who attend, the networking and seeing old friends.

How does it feel for the Hippodrome to have been nominated for the Social Responsibility of the Year category?

We know we have a degree of responsibility not only for the economic consequences of our activities, but also for their social and environmental implications.

It’s probably best summed up in the words of Ros Morgan, Chief Executive of our local business investment district HOLBA, which represents more than 600 businesses in the Leicester Square and Piccadilly areas, who recently said this about the Hippodrome: “They’re a business to be greatly admired and they have a lot of fans here. Their business success is underpinned by their determination to support local improvement and change. No-one has invested more in terms of time and resources in the West End. This means they’re something of an enigma, in presenting the West End’s largest ‘fun palace’ while demonstrating they care a great deal about legacy and tradition, fighting (persuasively and with muscle) local and national battles and improving the reputation of Leicester Square and the West End at large. They care. Which is an old-fashioned approach, but works wonderfully well.”    

London’s West End is a complex business eco-system; success comes easier when all of us do well. Knowing this, since opening nearly 10 years ago – we celebrate our first decade on July 13th this year – we’ve always been at the forefront of ensuring our social responsibility is core to how we run the Hippodrome business. The Evening Standard said over the years we had “become a pivotal figure within central London’s business community, unafraid to use their position as the country’s largest entertainment and casino venue to negotiate positive change”.

And positive change is exactly what we try to bring about. Through our hard work and, dare I say dogged persistence, we have the ear of national and local politicians, influencers, press, Chinatown and the important residential community.

Through our position on the board of our local business organisation HOLBA (Heart of London Business Alliance), and on two police advisory groups,  we’ve been instrumental in tackling crime and infrastructure issues that affect perceptions of the area and visitor safety. As one of the biggest entertainment and casino businesses in the West End, and one of its largest employers, it’s our social duty to become involved.

To help, we offer the Hippodrome meeting rooms for free to a wide selection of local community groups, the MET police, Westminster Council, charity and area security organisations. We were also instrumental in the appointment of a private security firm, My Local Bobby, which assists council inspectors and the MET with local issues.

And fortunately our attitude to taking care of the local environment is shared by a huge number of our business neighbours. It might be the West End of London but it feels very much like a close-knit village to us.

We are also establishing The Hippodrome Foundation: We calculated the Hippodrome donates over £250K to registered charities, neighbourhood groups, community causes and gifts in kind to more than 30 individual projects that request our help every year. However, we felt that our charitable giving needed some structure and a more defined purpose, which led to us currently establishing  a new Hippodrome Foundation which will launch in 2022.

Hippodrome staff members, local charities, individuals and groups and those who need cash support for a worthwhile cause can apply for a grant from the Foundation, granted twice-yearly by an independent board. In this way we have a true record of what projects the Hippodrome has helped.

How did the Hippodrome respond during the Covid-19 pandemic?
In the face of 18 months of lockdown and curfew, we achieved so much because we’re simply not the kind of people to lock the doors and turn off the lights. We actually saw being closed as an opportunity. So we set about several projects:

Improving our physical infrastructure with three major building and refurbishment projects that were easier to complete without customers in the building. Streamlining day to day operations in the face of curfew and post-pandemic concerns. Adopting the role of ad hoc spokesperson for both the casino sector and central London’s business eco-system to media and  political influencers. Engaging both staff and customers – keeping in touch was vital. Leading the re-opening charge for the West End  on an international media platform.

What initiatives did you get involved in during the pandemic?
We future-proofed the business with three major projects:

The addition of a third outdoor terrace which affords customers rooftop views over Soho and Chinatown and enlarging the second terrace, doubling the cumulative footprint available for external gaming, drinking and food.  The creation of a brand new casino floor, The Gods, sited within the apex of the old theatre building with an access bridge onto the new Rooftop Terrace. A dedicated and extended poker floor, doubling current capacity in preparation for the launch of the capital’s best tournament schedule. A poker room designed and run by poker players, for poker players.

Other initiatives included:  Completing the Hippodrome’s new customer app: Alongside developer Software Services we worked with Intelligent Gaming for more than a year on the software interfaces and understand that we are the only casino within the IG network to have developed such an app like this.

“The Hippodrome: an entertainment of unexampled brilliance”: To coincide with the reopening after the prolonged lockdown the company published a book about the astounding history of its Leicester Square building. Hard back and 180 pages in length, it is sumptuously illustrated with original prints and photography.

Staff Engagement – Lockdown Activity: Throughout lockdown we were conscious of the potential effect of prolonged periods at home for many employees, many of whom were isolated from their families with
no possibility of returning to their UK homes or native country. We launched two initiatives:

The Lockdown Arms & The Couch & Horses – two virtual online pubs where staff would meet virtually once a week to chat, drink and compete in an online pub quiz.

Webinars – live broadcasts where board members and those heading new projects would present ongoing activity from several locations within the Leicester Square venue to provide an update  of how the building work (and other activity) was progressing.

‘Hippodrome At Home’: We knew there were thousands of customers who missed their Hippodrome Family. So we turned to Entertainment Director Jillian George-Lewis and our Executive Chef Ioannis Grammenos to devise a series of online shows under the banner ‘Hippodrome At Home’, streamed live on our Facebook page.

Ioannis cooked live in an eight-part series from his home kitchen with a well-known guest chef. And Ioannis and sommelier Salvatore Russo (the casino world’s equivalent of ‘Ant & Dec’), starred in the Ioannis & Salvo Show. The winsome pair created delicious meals paired with extraordinary wines and introduced different guests each week ranging from Hippodrome staff members to our suppliers. They attracted an incredible 150,000 views during lockdown.

Re-Opening after Lockdown: Thomas made headlines on re-opening, leading the news agenda once again as a figurehead for West End business. We hung two huge chains across the front door that Executive Chairman Simon Thomas could cut off on the stroke of midnight, May 17th 2021, vowing to resist any calls to close again. We were front page and on broadcast bulletins throughout the world as part of ‘London’s grand re-opening’Post Lockdown Activity – hitting the ground running: Two shop units sited within the Hippodrome building itself but separate from the casino became available due to the lockdowns. We agreed to lease them and can now finally unify the full street frontage.

We are currently re-purposing them to create a dedicated ticket office/merchandise store for our in-house show Magic Mike Live, a ‘secret underground bar’, an Asian restaurant in partnership with Hong Kong’s renowned Four Seasons Group and a street-level café and cocktail bar with outside seating (see artist’s impression).

Work should be completed early summer.

What are the biggest challenges facing the UK land-based sector right now?

Rather than challenges we consider them opportunities. As more people come back to central London we predict business will easily exceed post-Covid levels. Early signs are this is very easily achievable. We also see that as people tied up in Covid related jobs are freed up, they will return to the normal workforce.

The opportunities presented by the upcoming Gambling Review are also substantial and we will continue to talk to the Government for their assistance to grow the sector and provide a much broader entertainment and gambling offer.

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