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Napoleons Manchester: Belonging to the community

By - 17 November 2020

A&S Leisure opens new Manchester club

Licence consolidation in city centre locations, closures, mass redundancies, government sanctions on opening hours of operation, social distancing and the encouragement of office workers to stay home. Scene-setting in the UK casino market reveals a backdrop of intense pressure, worry and no end in sight to the restrictions currently placed on trade.

Opening a new casino is always fraught with risk, especially if the new venture is launching in a highly competitive inner-city landscape in which retail land-based locations are already struggling for survival. Armed with this knowledge, for an independent operator to open its new central Manchester-based casino against the backdrop of everything outlined above – well, that takes guts.

The A&S Leisure Group opened its new Napoleons Casino & Restaurant at 57 Portland Street, Manchester on Thursday September 24. Originally scheduled to welcome the public at 11pm, plans altered at the last minute as the UK government brought into effect a 10pm-5am curfew 48 hours ahead of the opening, scuppering plans to offer 24/7 gaming to city centre players.

The £8m venue is part of the A&S Leisure Group, the UK’s largest privately-owned casino operator with venues including Napoleons Casino & Restaurant in Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Hull; and the Owlerton Greyhound Stadium in Sheffield.

Located adjacent to the newly minted Hotel Brooklyn and directly facing Manchester’s Chinatown district, the new Napoleons Casino & Restaurant has created 120 jobs in the city with an offer that includes American roulette, punto banco, blackjack and three card poker, plus electronic roulettes and slots from both Novomatic and IGT.

Facilities include a heated covered outdoor smoking terrace, complementary valet parking for evening guests, a striking cocktail bar, plus a contemporary private dining room and restaurant overlooking the gaming floor. The design of the casino fell under the purview of architects Chapman Taylor, while the build was the responsibility of global fit out and technology construction services provider, ISG.

A&S Leisure announced prior to opening that it had appointed Debbie Phillips as General Manager. G3 visited the new casino the morning following opening night to interview Soteris Scholarios, Casino Operations Director, Napoleons Casino.


Fitting the new club within the competitive casino environment in Manchester is one of the many hurdles Mr. Scholarios and his team need to clear. “Our first challenge is to establish ourselves as a credible alternative to our well- run corporate rivals,” states Mr. Scholarios.

Napoleons is a family business, part of the A&S Leisure Group that’s run by Chairman Dave Allen and Chief Executive, Mark Allen. And despite the ‘largest indie label,’ with around 700+ employees, the management structure of the business remains lean, with quick decisive decision- making. It’s this involvement and support from a private company that has enabled Napoleons Manchester to open its doors during this incredibly difficult period.

Dave Allen’s influence upon the project has been woven through the fabric of Napoleons Casino & Restaurant Manchester. An influential part of the casino business in the UK for over 50 years, the casino has been a long-term project and marks the return to the city for the Chairman, who in his youth played with his band at the Ritz ballroom on Oxford Street.

And it’s this atmosphere that lingers in the air at 57 Portland Street. The club is obviously a non-smoking venue, but it has the atmosphere of a duskily-lit club. Not a nightclub, but rather a jazz bar. It’s evocative of that kind of environment, one that wraps you up and envelopes you in its atmosphere. The colours are subdued, warm and intimate with a sparkling central cocktail bar drawing visitors to its light.

“If you visit our other clubs you’ll certainly recognise themes running through the different locations,” explains Mr. Scholarios. “We built upon the traditional design elements from our existing clubs and added a slightly more contemporary twist for Manchester.

“If you look at the new hotels opening in Manchester, such as the Dakota Hotel near Piccadilly, they’ve taken a similar approach in terms of the design elements and finishes. The use of deep rich tones in the furnishings and subdued intimate lighting is quite a bit darker than you’ll see in many of the casinos in the UK. It’s another element that sets this club apart.”


Describing the most important aspect of the new club, Mr. Scholarios singles out personal contact as the key differential and, also, one of the trickiest to balance thanks to social distancing. “Our customers always deserve more attention,” puts Mr. Scholarios simply. “Our club managers are available to our customers at all times. I think the difference with Napoleons is that you meet the manager as a matter of course, not exception. Our priority is talking to our customers, making them feel comfortable and welcome. If we don’t do this they may as well be playing online.”

One of the major issues that Covid has raised is that the daily pattern of customers, their movements and spending habits, have all radically altered. The ebb and flow of people into city centres has changed; the curfews and social aspects of eating, drinking and enjoying entertainment has been impacted beyond recognition.

However, there are positive retail experiences that have adapted to the challenges of Covid, with fitness centres, for example, encouraging people to train before and immediately after work. Building new operational patterns with schedules designed to suit the lifestyle changes of customers is going to be essential if retail businesses want to flourish in the future.

Napoleons Manchester had been designed and staffed to operate as a 24/7 casino, but as the UK government imposed restrictions on pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues between 10pm and 5am just 48 hours before Napoleons Manchester opened, most of the casinos in the UK have moved to a single shift pattern, with staff on the floor from 12pm to 10pm. The system has proved easy to manage and reduces both costs and staffing numbers. It’s not the approach, however, adopted by Napoleons.

“We’re open at 5am through to 10pm,” outlines Mr. Scholarios. “While we understand the decision to switch to a single shift and minimal staffing, we need to remain prepared for a return to whatever eventually passes for ‘normality.’ We are seeking to establish and grow the business and the big challenge in the first six months is to be sustainable whilst also offering consistently high levels of service.”

Mr. Scholarios believes that the out-of-home retail and entertainment sector will survive Covid-19 by having a thorough understanding of the business and the community it serves. It has to be a hands-on approach, and it’s the bespoke clubs that have the greatest flexibility and opportunity to offer customers a completely different experience to playing online.

“People want differentiation,” reinforces Mr. Scholarios. “Our customers visit us for social interaction. They don’t come solely for the game – otherwise they’d play online. Adding something extra and a bit different is fundamental to the future of the out-of-home experience. If a customer makes the effort to leave their home and step into your environment, you have to make them comfortable and make the experience worth the trip.”


The word ‘club’ has dropped out of the conversation around UK land-based casinos in the last 10 years. Larger groups speak of their casino estate, of locations and sites and of course, their casino brand. The use of club has fallen out of favour, but throughout our conversation, Mr. Scholarios purely talks about Napoleons Manchester as a club.

“A club is a community,” underlines Mr. Scholarios. “Your guests are not just coming to play, but to see their friends and enjoy the environment. There’s been an Americanisation of the UK casino industry that isn’t serving fully the needs of the British casino-goer, especially during this period of uncertainty.

“The American model works in the US because they have thousands of visitors per day, but that doesn’t address the fundamentals of catering for players who want a nice meal and to spend modestly at the tables. At Napoleons we want players to enjoy the club experience both today and in the long-term.”

If another cookie-cutter casino was to open in Manchester city centre during this pandemic – there would be an absurdity to it. If the offer is a club environment that builds its community in a sustainable manner, then Napoleons has more than a fighting chance to build a space for itself with this kind of offer.

The casino has had to make concessions to Covid-19 in terms of its opening offer, though Mr. Scholarios states that there were never plans to offer tournament poker, with or without the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. “We’re not trying to match our competitors pound-for- pound,” he explains.

“We will offer limited cash poker in the future, but Covid-19 requirements make things very challenging at this time, which is the same for mahjong, due to the need to continuously clean the tiles. Once we’re able, we’ll add both products to the offer at Napoleons Manchester.”


Everyone has had their own challenges to face due to lockdown and the on-going restrictions imposed by the pandemic, and none more so than the casino industry’s suppliers. However, Mr. Scholarios has nothing but praise for the OEMs he’s worked with to outfit Napoleons Manchester.

“The suppliers have been first class,” he tells us. “We’ve had an awful lot of support from the industry. We took the decision very early on that we weren’t taking any further risks by trialling product at the casino. We didn’t want anything on the floor that wasn’t proven product, which is why we have slots from IGT and EGTs and slots from Novomatic – both market-leading suppliers.

“I didn’t want customers worried about the type of games they were playing, or in doubt about the quality of the offer. Chipping machines and gaming tables have come from TCS, while both our roulette and automated wheels from Cammegh have been perfect. We were sold on the passion Cammegh share for their product and the quality and support has been excellent,” states Mr. Scholarios.

Chip supply from Matsui was also heavily praised by Mr. Scholarios. The chips coming from South Korea, a country that has experienced very low levels of Covid-19 infections, meant that the order for cash chips, plaques, roulette and poker chips was dealt with quickly and efficiently.

“We’ve had great support right across the spectrum, including our contractors,” adds Mr. Scholarios. “Architects Chapman Taylor have a local Manchester-based team that have been brilliant, while the ISG construction team, especially their project manager, have been amazing.”

In terms of bedding in the club and the future changes Mr. Scholarios envisions, the day following opening night is too early to make predictions – especially when Covid-19 is such a variable. “We welcomed most of the key customers in Manchester on opening night,” states Mr. Scholarios, “but that means nothing if we don’t attract them back on a regular basis.

“We need to make customers comfortable and ensure that we’re not attempting to take competitors on head-to-head in terms of offers. We need to establish a sustainable long-term business. Having the operation working optimally is our prime focus, while the other challenge to be addressed is the Covid-19 operating hours restrictions,” concludes Mr. Scholarios.

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