The Manchester supercasino may be dead in the water, but UK casino operators remain confident about the future and are placing their bets on improved food and beverage offerings as a major revenue-driver.
With the Gambling Act 2005 scheduled to be fully implemented by 1 September, the liberalisation of laws for casino operations in the UK has led to operators using food and beverage in their efforts to entice more customers.
London Clubs International (LCI), which opened London's largest casino, the Casino at the Empire, in May, employs about 500 people in its food and beverage operations - a quarter of all employees. Additional openings in Nottingham, Leeds and Glasgow, to add to its eight UK sites, will push that number over 600.
Alex Kaden, food and beverage director at LCI, told Caterer: "With deregulation we can advertise more liberally, meaning we can now advertise our restaurants and put the address of that restaurant on the advert. This means we need to take the food and beverage seriously. We believe that it can create commercial revenues and generate profit."
He expects LCI to compete with local restaurants. "One of the restaurants in the Manchester casino has a separate entrance for public access so people can go there without signing up for membership," he said.
The Palm Beach Casino, which is run by Stanley Casinos and shares property with the Mayfair hotel in London, brought in David Laval as head chef late last year and is ramping up its food offerings.
Virginie Bigand, director of hospitality and business development at the Palm Beach, said: "The regular gambler comes to the casinos two to four times a week and for those who are here often you need to offer a variety of food so they don't get bored. Also, our regulars are going out a lot in London, and so they're used to good food.
"With new regulations coming up, casinos are now able to compete with the bars and restaurants in London. We're in Mayfair, where the competition is the highest. That's why we've decided to appoint a chef able to produce an amazing and original menu. We want the food to be a main focal point as well as the fun of the games," she added.
Bigand insisted that barriers and perceptions in customers' minds about the nature of casinos needed to be broken down: "People need to know that a night in the casino is a fun and exciting evening, where gambling is just one aspect of the entertainment."
By Christopher Walton