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|Britain's biggest casino opens at Aspers Westfield Stratford
entertainment betting: 40 roulette and blackjack tables, 92 gaming terminals, a
150-seat poker room and 150 slot machines
"OK, we are now officially open," said a quiet, urgent voice over the
public address system at 12.01pm. "Guests are coming up the escalator. Good
From below, heads began to emerge, craning to take in
the dangling copper lights and huge chandeliers, the rows of blackjack tables
and the scores and scores of slot machines.
Most of the 120 or so who
had been queueing in the shopping centre below immediately formed a second
queue to collect membership cards, despite the best efforts of staff to usher
them inside. ("Most people are used to needing that little bit of plastic
before you can play," said Richard Noble, chief operating officer of Aspers.
"But we have an open door policy here you can just walk straight in and
One man with a scruffy beard in jeans, leather jacket and
trainers did just that, walking to a roulette table, opening his wallet and
taking out five £20 notes, which he flipped towards the croupier. Over
the next hour or so he would do the same again, several times, amassing small
piles of chips that he rattled with practised dexterity on to 10 or more
numbers with each spin of the wheel.
Aspers Casino Westfield Stratford City, the
biggest casino in Britain, built inside the biggest "in-town" shopping centre
in Europe, is now open for business and apart from Christmas Day, when a
lull will be imposed from midnight to midnight, it will never close.
65,000 sq ft, the complex in east London is host to 40 roulette and blackjack
tables, 92 electronic gaming terminals, a 150-seat poker room, a "fast-casual"
restaurant, two bars, one of which is next to an enormous screen with betting
facilities, and 150 slot machines, chiming and flashing hypnotically 24 hours a
day. Before the 2005 Gambling Act, which permitted the establishment of
"supercasinos" of which this is the first, the maximum number of machines an
establishment could license was 20.
The casino in Stratford has
attracted criticism since Newham was awarded the licence in 2007, with
campaigners arguing it would encourage gambling in a very poor borough and,
given its site next to the Olympic park, have little impact on regeneration.
Aspers is a joint venture between the Australian gambling group Crown
and Damian Aspinall, whose zoo-owning father John Aspinall ran the famously
louche Clermont Club in 1960s Mayfair. In contrast to the dukes, earls and
cabinet ministers who colonised that institution's tables, the Stratford casino
is targeting a rather different market.
The model, said Noble, is "high
volume, low spend", with a projected average stake of £15-20 a person.
"We call what we do 'entertainment betting', rather than particularly aiming
for high-stakes, professional betting. We class this as a space for fun
entertainment, that's all." There were whispers among the staff, all the same,
that the first woman up the escalator had £10,000 cash in her handbag.
Nicola McCollum and Nicola Norris had come from Southend, partly to
shop, partly because they knew the casino was opening and wanted a look. "It's
lovely. Large," said Norris, turning her head to take it all in. They had just
staked a fiver on an electronic roulette table (and lost). "We'll definitely
come back with our partners, though you could just pop in for lunch when you're
shopping, have a small bet."
McCollum couldn't quite get over how many
people were there already. "Even some of the staff were surprised at how busy
it is, they were saying. If it's like this now, think what it'll be like at
Dean Little, 26, hovering over a blackjack table clutching what
was left of a pint, said he had been looking forward to the opening. "I go to
Vegas almost every year and it's good to have something like that here at last.
It's lovely, looks really classy."
What was his game? "I'm a poker
man." Any good? "Well, I'm not rich." He reckons it will become a fixture with
his friends on nights out. "It will probably be a once a month thing, I guess.
Come here, have a meal, maybe go to the cinema. And I'm a West Ham fan," he
grinned, "so if they end up here [at the Olympic stadium after the Games] I'll
Was he on a day off? "I'm supposed to be at work at the
Emboldened by the minimum stake on the
slots (2p per line), the Guardian had a flurry. Many of the games appeared to
have been named by random word generation Cheese Caper, Lobstermania,
Fort Knox Mystery Progressives but we settled, largely because of the
picture of a sub-Disney princess and two wizard friends, on Diamond Queen ("Win
Free Spins With Guaranteed Stacked Wilds in the Mystical Diamond Bonus!").
The seat was very comfortable, the bleeping, chirruping soundtrack
cheering and rather soporific. It was all fantastically confusing, and a t one
point we may have been up by 40p, but after five minutes of button pressing,
journalism was £1 the poorer. Not for the first or last time on opening
day, the house had won.
Additional reporting by Rebecca