Reflecting upon the storied past of Casino 2000, its leader outlines a regimen for its future by Peter White and David McKee
Tucked away in the spa town of Mondorf-les-Bains is Casino 2000, a smallish but innovative property that markets itself to both France and Germany, each of which is a stone’s throw distant. The adults-only property is run by General Manager Guido Berghmans, who has been with Casino 2000 for nearly all of its four decades. Catering to grown-up gamblers and Francophone audiences, particularly in its entertainment regime, Casino 2000 strives to be up to date and cosmopolitan in its offerings.
Berghmans has steered Casino 2000 through thick and thin, including the ravages of Covid-19, when the pleasure palace was shuttered for four months. During that time, Berghmans did not lay off any staffers. Instead, he used the time and enforced idleness—during which the property was anything but idle—to upgrade Casino 2000 for the next two generations of business. Casino Life Publisher Peter White recently visited Casino 2000, where he spoke with Berghmans.
What are the origins of Casino 2000?
Casino 2000 is an entertainment complex located in Mondorf-les-Bains, in the south of Luxembourg, close to the French border. It opened its doors in April 1983. It was only in 1977 that the parliament approved a bill authorizing a casino in Luxembourg. The company was then founded and opened its doors under the name Casino 2000 on 16 April 1983.
Apart from the casino, it houses today two restaurants, several bars, a hotel with 33 rooms and suites, and a large event area for up to 2,000 people. It is only a few hundred meters to France, and the German border is only eight kilometers away. We serve a catchment area of about 500,000 people. Most of our guests come from France, about one-third from Luxembourg. The rest are German, Belgian and international guests. We currently offer around 310 slot machines, 60 terminals with electronic games, an American roulette table and three blackjack tables.
Image: Guido Berghmans General Manager Casino 2000
From the outset, our entertainment center included a hotel, restaurants and an event space. As in Las Vegas, all the areas are connected as soon as you pass the entrance control. Even the hotel is inside the casino. I think this is unique in Europe.
I started here as a croupier in 1984, after having worked for five years in the casino in Aachen, Germany. I have been running the business since 2002. In 2006, I was elected to the European Casino Association as vice-president. In this role, I worked for the ECA until 2014 in very interesting areas such as player protection, the prevention of money laundering and the regulation of online gaming in the EU. These are the areas that still interest me today as a member of the committee. With around 750 casinos and some 60,000 employees, the ECA is the only European organization representing the interests of land-based casinos.
The official celebrations for the 40 years of Casino 2000 are over. How has the company developed over the last 40 years?
There was really never a standstill, so I never got bored. The company has been constantly expanded, offers and products improved. In 2011, our event hall Chapito was opened and since then there is four times more space available for guests than when it was inaugurated in 1983.
We have constantly challenged ourselves and adapted to current situations. We were constantly looking for improvements. Over time, our staff have become true professionals, and we have recruited other, younger, highly trained experts. That's our strength today. In any case, we want to be good at everything we do.
The gambling market in Luxembourg is similar to that in France. The first slot machines appeared in casinos at the end of the 1970s, so I was able to witness the triumphal march of these games right from the start. As was the case in France, for a long time the gaming tables accounted for only a small proportion of the gross gaming revenue and the slot machines generated 95 percent of the result.
Here, in small Luxembourg, there is one particularity: the proximity of the government and the people responsible for overseeing the casino. Our first priority is to run the casino as the government expects. That's why our player-protection and money-laundering-prevention programs have been our most important projects for many years, and ones on which many of our staff work actively every day.
For us, the 40th anniversary celebration last June was above all an opportunity to present the company's modernization. We started renovating the various spaces in 2019 because we simply wanted to be an entertainment center that moves with the times. We'll be continuing to renovate and modernize for a while, and we'll also be commissioning new spaces, including a room dedicated to electronic games, and another trendy bar.
We will spend a total of 10 million euros on these modernizations. Money well spent, because we can already feel that we are reaching more target groups as a result. We want the entertainment center to come alive, through the concerts we stage and the countless smaller events with which we hope to attract up to an additional 500 people each on Fridays and Saturdays. The advantage for our customers is that the participants can benefit from all our offers and therefore their event becomes very attractive.
As I've already mentioned, there's a very close relationship with the government here in Luxembourg. We were delighted to have been honored by the presence of the Minister of Justice & Culture, the Minister of Labor, Employment & the Social Economy, and the Minister of Tourism & Medium-sized Businesses, among many others, at the official ceremony.
And what's next? How has Casino 2000 positioned itself for the future?
Most European casino groups have adapted their strategies over the last 15 years due to competition on the Internet. The search for the "casino of tomorrow" has kept many groups busy for years. The Covid pandemic has once again led to a rethinking of the strategy and the range of offers, according to purely economic criteria. We observed very closely how the individual groups were positioning themselves and decided on a large number of changes ourselves during Covid. At the beginning of 2019 we had started to modernize our casino. We threw out all the old, established clichés because we wanted to be a contemporary entertainment company. Today, we see our competition in other entertainment companies rather than in casinos.
Our 1,300-square-meter event hall, the Chapito, offers us enormous possibilities with its first-rate equipment. For a number of years now we've been using it to offer a big variety of events. Here too, we want to be very professional and make a profit, which we are doing better and better.
A few months ago, we decided to further expand our event program and would like to offer more internationally known artists in the future. In the last few years, we had mainly focused on French artists and were very successful with that. Last year, about 100,000 people took part in events organized by us. There are only a handful of casinos in Europe that offer similarly large and numerous events. With our team of experienced staff and highly trained experts, we don't need to hide behind the big casino groups.
Image: Casino 2000 Staff
The same applies to our restaurants. It's a constant battle to offer attractive products at competitive prices and to maintain the same high quality of cuisine and service. But here too, we are delighted with what is happening today in our two restaurants.
On the one hand, we have the gourmet restaurant Les Roses, which has improved even further recently, and on the other the Purple Lounge, which offers a very modern menu with trendy dishes from all over the world. Here too, exceptional teams ensure the highest quality and that we don't lose any money.
In the next few months, we will be opening another gaming room for electronic games. Our Interblock stadium will also be housed there. Attached to it, we are planning a very modern bar with snack offerings. This will be the most modern area, operating mainly on weekends and aimed at a slightly younger clientele.
We are active in the digitalization and automation of processes, and had launched a total of 20 projects in 2022, most of which will be realized in the coming months. For the largest project, the start-up of our own casino on the Internet, we are unfortunately still awaiting approval. Internally however, preparations are underway.
We adapt to changing trends and technologies to ensure our continued success and relevance in the future. We now use much better data-analytics tools to understand customer preferences and behavior, allowing for more personalized experiences and targeted marketing campaigns. They also help to optimize our floor layouts and slot machine placements. We have also strengthened our cybersecurity measures to protect customer data and financial transactions.
We try to understand the preferences of younger generations and create experiences that resonate with them. Of course the main focus is on providing exceptional customer service to differentiate from our competitors. Our staff is very professional, friendly and attentive to guests' needs.
To what extent is online gambling a competitor for you?
Here in Europe, as the first online casinos began to appear in the late 1990s and in the early 2000s, some European countries introduced initial regulations to address online gambling.
The European Court of Justice ruled in 2007 in favor of online gambling operators in a landmark case, establishing the principle of free movement of services for online gambling offers within the European Union. This decision had a significant impact on the regulation of online gambling in Europe. However, the regulation of online gambling in the EU has been anything but a success story. The market was literally flooded with offers that were hardly regulated and could not be controlled. In the last few decades this has caused immense damage to society. It is time for politicians to make decisions that strictly regulate and control the market for all participants.
To this day, the illegal offer remains very large, because many providers ignore national regulations. In the U.S., illegal providers are combatted much more efficiently and it has been shown that state-by-state regulation for online gambling can be implemented very successfully.
Illegal gambling poses significant dangers, both to individuals and society as a whole. These dangers can have wide-ranging consequences. There are no safeguards in place to protect consumers. Players have no recourse if they are cheated or treated unfairly. Illegal gambling is also frequently associated with organized crime. It makes it easy for minors to access and participate in gambling activities, which is harmful and leads to negative social consequences.
Casino 2000 publishes two Magazines 2COOL and Things2Do in print and online, as well as investing in social media.
We market our company through wide-ranging advertising for our gastronomy and our events. This also includes two magazines that are published five or six times a year with a circulation of 220,000 and distributed to the letterboxes of the greater region. We have been using the social networks for years and now have specialists who take care of it. We also maintain active contacts with influencers and blogger networks.
What is Casino 2000’s approach to responsible gambling and AML?
The protection of players and the fight against money laundering are the two main concerns of the government. Accordingly, we attach great importance to acting very professionally here. In 2002, we started to introduce a proactive player-protection program with the consultants of the ASSISSA Group from the Netherlands. In the meantime, this has become very mature and a large number of employees are taking care of it. Since 2006, we have received very specific requirements from the public prosecutor's office for combating money laundering. I myself led the establishment of these two programs and am still involved with them on a daily basis. Through my activities in the committee of the ECA I have participated in very many conferences and meetings on these issues and always had the necessary information at hand at an early stage.
And perhaps a few wishes in closing?
Yes, of course. Our main wish is that order is finally restored to the gambling market. What we've seen over the last few decades has been pretty unfair to the land-based casinos, most of which are doing an excellent job here in Europe. As already mentioned, comparable regulations should finally be created for all gambling operations.
Legislators should also not forget that land-based casinos are large employers. They create an attractive entertainment program in many communities and significantly expand the range of gastronomic offerings. The taxes that casinos pay should not be forgotten either. This revenue is very important to many communities. And then casinos are a huge driver of tourism. Those should be enough reasons to support land-based casinos in the future, especially because they have proven to be very reliable partners of the regulatory authorities for decades.
Under these conditions, we will be just as successful in the next 40 years. And, as always, it also takes a bit of luck.
Our editorial and design team on Casino Life Magazine would like to extend our thanks to Guido Berghams and all the management and staff at Casino 2000 for their kind hospitality cooperation with this exclusive feature interview.
*** This interview was originally published in Casino Life Issue 160 September 2023***