After a short illness, James Thomas, president and co-founder of The Hippodrome Casino, died in his sleep on the morning of July 30.
Aged 88, Thomas died at the London Clinic with members of his family present. He leaves a son and two daughters, Simon, Lisa and Carla, from his marriage to Alma who died in 2008, a son Jordan from his second marriage, seven grandchildren and three step grandchildren.
Born in Loughborough in 1934, Thomas was educated at Uppingham School in Leicestershire, part of a family that, for seven generations, has been immersed in the UK leisure and gaming industries.
In 1956 he opened his first casino in the Hurst Hotel, Quorn, Leicestershire, followed by others in Nottingham and Derby. In 1965 he launched the La Ronde Casino & Cabaret Club in Loughborough.
In the early 60s, Thomas founded Thomas Automatics Co Ltd, which established itself as one of the world’s largest manufacturers, designers, suppliers and exporters (to 37 countries) of amusement and leisure equipment. He founded Showboat Holdings Limited which comprised a number of companies including Showboat Entertainment Centre Limited which grew to be the leading privately owned group of amusement centres in the country, and Beacon Entertainments Limited, acknowledged as the market leader in the operation, innovation and luxury design of bingo and social clubs.
A sale took place in 1987 to The Rank Organisation together with a demerger of some of the companies. These were retained by the Thomas family and the parent company, Thomas Holdings Limited, was formed. As chief executive and later, with his son Simon Thomas as managing director, the group companies – Thomas Estates Limited (Showboat Amusement Centres) & Beacon Entertainments Limited (Beacon Bingo & Social Clubs) – continued to operate venues until, in August 2006, the group was sold to Mayfair Acquisitions Co Limited and operated under Riva Gaming Limited, subsequently purchased by Praesepe plc.
This sale led to the father and son team tackling the most ambitious project the UK casino sector has ever seen. Opened in July 2012, the multi-award-winning Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, London, is recognised as a new breed of UK casino and entertainment venue that has revolutionised the industry.Thomas recently celebrated his 88th birthday with a party at the Hippodrome.
Thomas was a member of many industry bodies including a life membership of BACTA (British Amusement & Catering Trades Association); vice president and chairman of the BACTA Charitable Trust; and director of EAGE Ltd (European Amusement & Gaming Expo Ltd) since its formation in May 2009.
In 2013 he was honoured by the Casino Association with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the first living person to be honoured on the BACTA Wall of Fame and. In 2019 he was honoured with another Lifetime Achievement honour at the British Casino Awards.
Simon Thomas, Thomas’ son and executive chairman of the Hippodrome said: “My father achieved enough for several lifetimes and was respected the world over for his business leadership and pioneering vision. I had the privilege of his advice and guidance not only as a business partner but as a son. He was one of a kind, and will be greatly missed by his family, many friends and staff members.”