When plans were announced in July 2010 that one of London’s most famous buildings would be restored, the expected opening date was mid-2011. But the high profile Hippodrome Casino didn’t open until July 2012, a year after the original mooted launch date.
Similarly, the joint venture in place with Media Corp hit a snag and the initial plans to launch their online operations in accordance with the land-based casino were shelved. Here we are, three months after Boris Johnson and others celebrated the reopening of the building and the online offering is still yet to be seen.
Delays in construction, especially in England, are no surprise and could well have been expected. The extent to which the online business has been delayed would certainly not have been in the blueprint. But despite this, Simon Thomas, chairman of the Hippodrome Casino, explains that the delays have actually worked in their favour.
He says: “In hindsight it’s worked out very well. The benefit of the delays has been that because we had a more finished casino we were able to get the likes of PokerStars interested when at the start of the project they wouldn’t have been.”
The deal with PokerStars was announced last week and was not simply a sponsorship or online partner deal, it saw the Isle of Man-based company buy a stake in the Leicester Square casino. For them, it provides that there are trousers to go with the mouth in their attempts to expand outside the online poker market.
The current and potential future legal state in the United States has meant that online gambling companies pairing up with land-based casino operators is by no means a rarity. However, the stake purchased and sharing of services makes this deal something different. But Thomas describes the process through which the deal about was fairly simple – no doubt helped by the fact that there was much to gain for both sides.
“We had a few initial discussions and both sides could see that there was value in pushing it further and actually having a branded poker deck in London,” Thomas explains.
“We have lots of space available so we can handle day to day cash games but we can also handle branded tournaments. PokerStars saw the attractions of that and we could obviously see the attraction of being aligned with the main poker brand in the world.”
The deal means that both parties will be visible on each other’s platforms. For PokerStars that means their branded poker deck while for The Hippodrome, it means a branded micro-site on the PokerStars website.
Merging Online and Offline
Having been in charge of the re-development process along with his father, Thomas has considerable experience in running bingo halls but not so much when it comes to casinos, and even less when it comes to online gambling.
However, he’s confident that The Hippodrome Casino’s online operations will be a success. In a press release regarding the deal with Microgaming – who will provide casino software for the brand – he referred to ‘the true potential of a bricks-and-mortar venue and its online presence”. It’s fair to say that while Genting has put a solid effort into building their brands online and Gala are having more success following their summer re-launch, neither have set the iGaming world alight. So now is the turn of The Hippodrome, and Thomas is extremely optimistic that his company can succeed in the space where others haven’t.
He says: “We think we’ll be very successful because there’s a lot of people that gamble online and there’s plenty that gamble offline.
“So, there’s a fantastic opportunity to have a land-based casino being the offline clubhouse of an online company and for online people to be able to deposit and withdraw money in a land based casino for their online accounts.”
Given Thomas’ intentions to run the online and offline operations closely, it suggests that they could make waves online. His idea of using the land-based casino as a venue for finals of slot and poker tournaments is certainly one that’s likely to appeal to the online population. The issue that has come with the two aforementioned companies’ attempts to prosper online and off is that the divisions we so separate. However, Thomas reveals that that won’t be the case at The Hippodrome.
“We’ll have a dedicated resource to manage the relationships between online and offline. So if you’re having an online tournament which leads to an offline final then you have to ensure that the tournament itself is run properly. Also that if it’s an event led tournament run by the online casino then the interfaces have to match,” he explains.
Encouraging customers to play across multiple products with the same operator is something that’s spoken about a lot in iGaming. Sports betting operators are always keen to encourage casino play while bingo operators are also keen to have customers trying out softer slots or scratch cards in-between games.
This cross selling has even taken place from retail to online and mobile for some of the larger bookmakers – although how successful they are at this remains to be seen. So cross selling, while obvious, may not be quite as simple as it first seems. However, Thomas is confident that they’ll be able to get players to remain loyal to the brand whether online or offline.
When asked about how he knows that land-based customers will play online he says: “It’s what we understand from knowing our customers and talking to them. The demographics and age profile all point to it as well.
“Our land-based casino customers are playing online so we may as well have them on our site instead of someone else’s.”
In order to encourage this, there will even be some slots titles that will be playable in the casino and on the computer. Although at the moment Thomas knows where he thinks the smart customers will be playing. He explains: “Online the games are unrestricted whereas offline they’re only a £2,000 or £4,000 jackpot but I think going forward the government is going to be forced to allow offline casinos more freedom.
“At the moment it’s ridiculous, you can walk into an offline casino with your own iPad and you can play better games online than you can in the casino where you are.”
Whether or not the government does make this change is by and large out of Thomas’ hands. What is in his hands, however, is the success of The Hippodrome, and he’s already made quite an impressive start.