Tributes Pour in Following Death of Gaming Industry Pioneer Jimmy Thomas

After a short illness, Jimmy died in his sleep on the morning of Saturday, July 30, at the London Clinic with members of his family present. He was 88.

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, Jimmy 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, Jimmy 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.

Reflecting on the life and impact of Jimmy Thomas, Sascha Blodau. General Manager MERKUR UK, said: “The term Legend is over-used but Jimmy Thomas was exactly that – a legend of this industry and someone who was always thinking many steps ahead of everyone around him. Jimmy wasn’t just a thinker he was a doer as well. The combination of vision and action was extremely powerful and evidenced in his approach to bricks and mortar bingo and more recently the London Hippodrome which is not only a highly successful casino but also the most popular entertainment destination in the West End.

“Many of the MERKUR UK team have worked for ‘Mr Thomas’ and he previously owned a number of our venues. People like Jimmy Thomas are extremely rare and we should all be grateful for the massive contribution that he made to the development of this industry, to bacta, to the bacta Charitable Trust, to the London shows and to everyone who had the extreme good fortune to know him.

”The thoughts of the entire MERKUR UK team are with his family at this extremely sad time.”

Nigel Davis, MERKUR UK’s Head of Gaming Machines, stated: “My 42 years in the industry are mainly down to Jimmy Thomas. What a character, the epitome of an entrepreneur, and a true leader. He knew how to get the best out of all of us, and it was a pleasure and a genuine privilege to have worked for him.”

Tony Boulton, of MERKUR UK described Jimmy Thomas as a ‘master of innovation.’ He confirmed: “I have known Jimmy for most of my business career. He could identify a retail opportunity and find or build a product to satisfy the demand. He was the man behind section 16 and 21. He had a unique ability to identify opportunities in the legislation and create new products and opportunities around them”

Jimmy Thomas was a member of many industry bodies including a life membership of BACTA, 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. In 2019 he was honoured with another Lifetime Achievement honour at the British Casino Awards.

Simon Thomas, Jimmy’s 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.”