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Plentiful Potential

What has been the reaction to the opening of Lola’s Underground Casino.

I have to admit, the wholly positive reaction when we opened the doors to Lola’s even flummoxed me a little, and I knew what was behind them!

It’s worked wonderfully because we’re delivering both a new type of customer to the Hippodrome while delighting our existing visitors because it gives them another alternative area to explore. And people are staying longer, up to 50% longer than the average dwell time.

The integration of live dancing and gaming on the same floor was a very bold move on our part. We have a team of 10 girls who perform in a ‘tiger cage’ which is sited dead centre in the middle of the tables with performances from 8pm to 2am.

It’s a true UK first, very much in the Las Vegas style, and fits perfectly with the way we do things at The Hippodrome which has always been to push the boundaries of what you can expect from a UK casino.

How did this innovative design and layout come about.

Hitherto the space was serving as an overflow to the main gaming floors, and we felt it could perform better as a destination venue with its own identity.

Our research revealed the character of Lola McGuire who performed as a chorus girl at the Hippodrome when it opened as a theatre in 1900. She organised illicit card games and drinking parties, and our designer brought to life elements of the backstage, underground area of the theatre as it would have been for the first few years of the Hippodrome’s life. It’s dark, seductive you could say, and contains fascinating new elements including mirrors that come to life with the faces of past artistes, and a range of specially-commissioned films. There's also a barber shop for customers, free of charge.

Lola's actually inhabits the space formerly occupied by a 100,000 gallon pool built for the wild animals who performed there, with additional rooms and tunnels that were home to the performers, engineers and theatre management.

What are the mix of Tables and EGM’s along with additional facilities such as Bar and Food options.

The gaming comprises four roulette tables, three Blackjack, one three Card Poker, one Dice table and a number of EGMs. There are 24-hour European and Asian menus, plus a vast range of speciality gins included in the traditional wine, beer and spirits menu at the bar.

During our conversation you mentioned how the Hippodrome is Constantly Evolving, so there hasn’t been a situation where you can say the process is complete.

 It will never be complete.

 The Hippodrome is the West End’s very own Forth Bridge. From the minute we opened the front door on July 13, 2012, we’ve been improving, innovating and tweaking – this is where the fun really begins.

 If you look at the history of the building, it’s the one entertainment venue in London that has never stopped reinventing itself. Which is why it became the icon it is to this day.

 Similarly, I’m not going to sit back and say ‘job done’ because I’d be a fool to think we can’t improve things further. New trends, fashions and requirements demand we offer new things to different audiences. We also spot opportunities on a daily basis and these impact wonderfully on the business.

 Who knew we would be home to Pokerstars’ first live deck? Or marketing ourselves to our United States visitors as the home of American Sports in London? But the 400 NFL fans for every weekend line up of matches during the football season proved we can do that too. 

 When I look at the Hippodrome now compared to when we launched it’s a very different place; physically and as a business. We’ve learned, we’ve adapted and we’ve smashed all our targets.

It has been clear even from our first interview with you ahead of the opening that Technology in Casinos has always been of primary importance?

The Hippodrome is one of London’s historical entertainment icons; but now with a high tech digital core. When we renovated the building we took the opportunity to introduce the very latest technology in terms of gaming, but also everything else required for a massive state-of-the-art entertainment venue that has to adapt to the needs of launches, conferences and events too.

In technical terms, this means we have a sophisticated ‘high availability’ infrastructure running a fully integrated casino management system which gives us an holistic view of the whole business and our players. And the fact that I can change the colour of the lights on the exterior of the building while sitting in the bath at home…well, no-one could get bored of that.

 Can you possibly chart the development of the impressive increases in attendance at the Hippodrome that even exceed the original forecasts in numbers of visitors to slots and tables since its opening.

 I sat down with the team prior to opening and said how happy I would be if we reached 18,000 visitors a week by the end of the half year. We hit that figure on the second week, and are now nipping at the heels of 150,000 customers a month. We celebrated our millionth visitor in May 2013 – six months ahead of predictions – and the second million in January this year. We’re the busiest casino in the UK.

 Player engagement/retention and interaction/enjoyment, would appear from conversations with you, to be amongst the key qualities you look for with new EGM’s is that an accurate observation?

 The EGM’s are an attractive part of the offer at the Hippodrome as with any modern casino. But it remains bizarre that British casinos are limited to 20 machines and I am hopeful the Government will correct that soon. As for the current EGMs, they do a great job and I suspect are where people who cut their teeth gambling online start in a real casino.

We have met you at industry trade shows around the World, often at booths whilst being presented with the latest games, slots and multiplayer technology, which says a lot about the importance you place in keeping fully up to date with the latest technology and industry game development trends?

The casino industry is a fantastically exciting industry and it is important if you want to be at the cutting edge to be aware of all the trends.

Innovation has been synonymous with the Thomas name in the Entertainment and Leisure industries over many years. With that in mind is game development with a partner manufacturer supplier a possibility in the years ahead?

We’re an ideas factory. We also understand the legislation, and have the contacts to make things happen so there are plenty of things happening in this area which we will announce when we’re ready.

 How do you see the year ahead for the Hippodrome?

As Churchill said: ‘It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.’ Suffice to say, we are doing OK but we now have the headspace to see even more opportunities.