A DIRECTOR of Yorkshire’s largest casino has called for council support to secure its future after suffering a drop in footfall.
Roy Ramm, director of compliance and risk management at London Clubs International, which owns Alea Casino in Clarence Dock, Leeds, said the city council needed to improve links between the destination and the city centre to increase the number of visitors to the area.
Clarence Dock was officially opened on October 11, 2008, with a glittering waterfront fashion show hosted by Gok Wan. Three years on and virtually all of the shops have gone, leaving the remaining businesses struggling to attract the footfall needed to prosper.
During a visit to Leeds, Mr Ramm told the Yorkshire Post: “Clarence Dock feels like a forgotten part of the city at the moment, the council has moved on to new developments. The only thing that’s missing here is the tumbleweed.”
Alea is the latest business based at the site to complain about the lack of footfall. Mumtaz Khan, owner of the Mumtaz restaurant, has previously said he feels he was misled by the initial hype surrounding the dock.
London Clubs International spent over £12m in fitting out Alea but Mr Ramm said footfall had fallen by 10 per cent year-on-year in the last three years. He warned its future was not secure unless something changed.
“Leeds is an incredibly vibrant and fantastic city to visit and then you come over to Clarence Dock and it feels neglected and ignored and the link between Clarence Dock and the city doesn’t seem fluid and real enough.”
Mr Ramm said he had met council representatives to discuss the issue. “There has to be some synergy between landlords and city authorities to say ‘we want this place to work’,” he said. An added concern for Alea is that Leeds City Council is launching a competition next year for a large casino licence in Leeds. Alea has applied to take on the licence, which would enable it to increase its number of slot machines from 20 to 150. Mr Ramm said if the licence was given to another operator, Alea would be unable to compete.
“The uniqueness of this place will be lost completely and frankly, it will close,” he said.
Mr Ramm said that with 60,000 sq ft of front-of-house entertainment space, Alea is actually bigger than the Government’s requirement for a large casino. The venue employs 150 staff but most of its space is dedicated to non-gaming activities.
If granted the licence, Mr Ramm said Alea would introduce more games, such as bingo, a sports bar for betting and a lot more slot machines. “It’s not like Las Vegas,” said Mr Ramm. “It’s just 150 slot machines, but it does mean you can offer more.”
London Clubs International has given evidence to the Department for Culture Media and Sport Select Committee supporting calls for a level playing field when it comes to the number of gambling machines it can house.
Mr Ramm said: “How can it be right that in a city the size of Leeds one casino will get a big licence and all the others will be stuck with just 20 machines and not allowed to bet and not allowed to play bingo?”
A spokeswoman from Leeds City Council said it does not have any specific locations in mind for the new licence yet. “All applications will be treated equally and considered thoroughly before any decision is made,” she added.
London Clubs International owns 13 casinos around the UK, Egypt and South Africa.
The number of online casinos has risen dramatically in recent years but Mr Ramm said the internet could not compete with the social aspect that casinos could offer.
He added that his staff were trained to recognise and deal with customers who have a problem. The company also publishes literature about gambling and places warnings on machines about keeping it under control.
“We don’t want people to spend more than they can afford,” he said. “We want people to enjoy a night out and come again. We think gambling in a social environment is safer than gambling online.”
Lend Lease, which owns Clarence Dock, declined to comment.
To hear more of the interview, listen to the Business Talk Podcast on the Yorkshire Post website, www.yorkshirepost.co.uk
A career in gaming sector
Roy Ramm is an executive director of London Clubs International, which owns 13 casinos around the UK, Egypt and South Africa.
He joined the gaming industry 16 years ago following a 27-year career at the Metropolitan Police and has the compliance portfolio for the company.
As well as his UK responsibilities, Mr Ramm has been involved in casino and entertainment operations and licence applications in the US, South Africa, the Bahamas and across the Middle East. He is a director of the National Casino Industry Forum.
Prior to joining the industry, Mr Ramm was commander of specialist operations at new Scotland Yard but had never been inside a casino.