Hurrah's £25m Glasgow Gamble

02 May 2008

by Chris Musson, Evening Times

SCOTLAND'S biggest casino - the £25million Alea - has opened on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow.

The venue, owned by Las Vegas-based gambling giant Harrah's, will become the city's sixth casino and will employ around 180 staff.

London Clubs International (LCI), the UK arm of Harrah's, spent £10m building the Springfield Quay complex and £15m fitting it out, including luxury furnishings, artwork and decor.

However, bosses insist Alea is not "exclusive" and the casino, which has views over the regenerated Clydeside towards the Squinty Bridge, is a "£3-a-pint venue that will be "open to everyone".

Despite occupying a site the size of a football pitch - including a restaurant, coffee shop, three bars and a conference room/entertainment venue - the casino is bound by the same restrictions as the city's five existing casinos.

Glasgow lost out last year in its bid to house the UK's first supercasino, which would have been allowed 1250 unlimited jackpot gaming machines and dozens of card tables and roulette wheels.

By comparison, Alea and the city's other casinos are allowed just 20 machines - with £4000 maximum jackpots - along with a limited number of roulette wheels and card games.

But LCI is confident the casino will be a success.

Sales and marketing manager Nicola Mackenzie said: "As far as we're concerned, the days of casinos being the domain of men in tuxedos are over.

"There's no formal dress code. As long as you're smart and tidy you will be more than welcome. We want to be as welcoming as possible to everyone.

"Women are a group we especially want to see coming in. The interior design has been done by women and we think that having female designers has had a real impact on the feel of the place.

"It's also a secure environment for people to be in. We've created an atmosphere where people can have a drink or a meal, enjoy some entertainment, and maybe play some casino games."

The casino will have regular live entertainment such as bands and comedians and a pianist in the evenings seven days a week.

Bosses believe the casino's biggest draw will be its views of the Clyde towards the Armadillo and the Squinty Bridge.

Unlike many large American casinos - which critics say are deprived of natural light so customers lose track of how long they've spent there - Alea has been designed with as many windows as possible.

The decor, including a huge £500,000 steel and wood wave sculpture through the centre of the building, is partly water-themed, with local touches such as wallpaper and carpets by Glasgow designers Timorous Beasties, and two pop-art paintings by city artist Ashley Cook at the entrance.

The casino was due to have opened around 18 months ago. Despite earlier claims of problems with development of the building, LCI said the delay was because it "wanted to get everything just right".

Venue director Paul Rety has moved from his job as boss of the Thistle Hotel, while 38-year-old chef Jamie Walker, a native of Stevenston, Ayrshire, has moved back to Scotland with his family after years working in some of London's most exclusive restaurants, including training under celebrity chef Anton Mosimann.

Mr Rety said: "I'm confident that Alea Glasgow is going to be a huge boost for the city, offering Glaswegians an entirely new entertainment experience.

"We offer something for everyone - from a romantic dinner for two, a night of live music or a game of poker with friends."

Industry insiders say LCI is "hedging its bets" with the two-floor Glasgow venue, which has a third floor which can be developed at a later date.

One senior adviser to the casino industry said: "Under current regulations LCI, like other operators, are restricted by the amount of gaming they can have in casinos.

"The Glasgow venue is clearly designed so it can hold a lot more machines should an opportunity arise, if the legislation is changed.

"At the moment it's all a little bit up in the air.

"Gordon Brown looks to have pulled the plug on the Manchester supercasino, and he upped the tax on casino profits to 50%.

"But LCI is in it for the long haul. It knows the tax rate might be reduced at some point and it might also have the chance to get in more machines and tables."

LCI says it is acutely aware of its "social responsibility" role, and all staff are briefed to look out for problem gamblers.

Knowing when to stop leaflets will be spread around the venue, giving advice and details of helplines.

Reproduced with the permission of The Evening Times (Glasgow) © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd.

  • Alea Casino at dusk