Glyn Thomas chats to Thérèse Liljeqvist, General Manager at Casino Cosmopol Stockholm, about how staff contribute significantly to making the casino offer unique and unforgettable
I met Thérèse last year at G2E when we had our Casino Life reception at the Wynn. With busy times in between it’s taken until now to complete our interview but it gives a clear insight into how the Casino Cosmopol ticks.
Thérèse, as you know we at Casino Life take great pride in interviewing leading industry CEO’s and Senior Level Management both to get to know the companies that they work for as discover their key attributes for success. Please tell our readers about yourself and your role at Casino Cosmopol.
First let me introduce you to the casino world in Sweden. Casino Cosmopol has casinos in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Sundsvall. They are all individual units within the company and Casino Cosmopol in turn is a subsidiary to Svenska Spel that is a state-owned company group.
I am, since 2011, the General Manager of Casino Cosmopol Stockholm, the largest of our four Casinos with approximately 550 employees.
As GM I’m ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in the Casino. I have been in the Hospitality business all my life and I’ve previously been General Manager at hotels within the Hilton group and the Grand Hotel group.
For me the distinct difference in working at a casino, apart from the regulations that are strict, is communicating with 500+ employees that mainly work at night. My leadership is focused on making everybody feel acknowledged and valuable; something that requires some face time on an at least a weekly basis, so I have had to adapt to working in a different environment.
I always want the employees to know that they are appreciated and that I, as General Manager, know that they are the ones that really make a difference; So I put a lot of effort into meeting employees in all sorts of forums and during all hours.
I also initiated our “Staff days” where the management team and all our staff get together in small groups and discuss our current issues. No idea, issue or opinion is too small or crazy to be discussed in this forum!
What has been the approach employed by Svenska Spel to the Casinos? “One size fits all” or a more local approach with each operation having their own individuality - founded on the club’s location and the community it serves?
Casino Cosmopol is a subsidiary fully owned by Svenska Spel. This means that Casino Cosmopol is a separate company yet technically a part of the group. The four casinos that form Casino Cosmopol are completely different in size and also somewhat in character and therefore the adaptation to the local market is important and crucial to achieve success in that specific market. There is, however, a significant coordination both within the Casino Cosmopol and with Svenska Spel regarding Responsible Gaming, purchasing, education, policy work, communication, etc.
Creating an enjoyable, fun and relaxed environment are important factors in entertainment venues; what kind of investment has Casino Cosmopol Stockholm made into these areas?
During the last year we improved our shows and restaurant and entertainment. We believe it should be fun to take a break from gambling in our Casino. We have moved the main restaurant, Jackpot Grill & Bar, to make it larger and better situated in the Casino; we also created a SportZone bar and entertainment area with large screens showing live games. Whenever we put a show together or an event for a customer we have a supplier that will customize any equipment and technical knowledge we need. To keep up the glamour we recently renovated our poker room and the total overhaul that it turned out to be made it more appealing to our players. This is something that we hear on a daily basis – and that makes us happy!
Can you explain a little more about how Casino Cosmopol has evolved over recent years?
In an effort to raise the feeling of commitment and enthusiasm, in our managers as well as our employees in general, we have put a considerable amount of time and effort on issues such as our core values and corporate culture.
In order to be professional when meeting guests, the staff need to be well-informed about what is happening in the casino and prepared to do their best to deliver a world-class service experience. It is however, a challenge to communicate daily information to 500+ employees that work all hours of the night (and day), have different languages and culture and without computers… It takes commitment and leadership skills from our managers. To keep up, the Casino is offering courses in leadership for existing managers as well as a training program for future leaders. As a confirmation of our great success in this area Casino Cosmopol was awarded 1st place in the class;” The Educational Development Programme of the Year in the Land-based Casino Sector” at the Totally Gaming Awards a couple of years ago. This and many other efforts are contributing to the positive development in our yearly employee survey, last year we reached all time high!
We also have, during the years, had a number of activities for employees to enforce the importance of service excellence. We have a yearly staff conference where we award best performance in number of categories such as “outstanding role model”. We also educate hosts and hostesses to hold courses in inspiration for their fellow employees.
Any new plans ahead?
Our latest project, which will become a permanent feature, is a service concept called “Creating Memories” which we are introducing in all of our four Casinos, starting this spring. It is an effort to raise our level of service to our guests even higher and involves checklists and transcripts that will help our staff in delivering outstanding service every time. We aim for excellence and this will get us closer to the goal.
How has Casino Cosmopol developed ways of providing promotions and incentives to its customers through social media?
Our license to offer gambling (issued by the state) gives us very few opportunities to market our gaming activities. What we can do is market ourselves in the Casino and hopefully turn our guests into ambassadors for our excellent service. We also have partnerships with, for example, companies handling our shows and they in turn will talk about us in their online channels and social media. Along with this we publish information about our restaurant, events and shows on our Facebook and Instagram accounts plus advertise on the internet.
Does your tourist and business traveller element explain why you have over 80 different nationalities working across the Cosmopol Group that involves Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo and Sundsvall?
As the majority of our guests at all the Casinos are local it doesn’t reflect on our staff. It is rather a reflection of the country in general. Sweden is a country with a high level of immigration and we have many initiatives designed to get newly arrived manpower ready for a job quickly. The Casino is part of these efforts and we are proud to have a very including corporate culture.
In a recent workshop with all our four casinos our diversity was one of the things that our employees were the proudest of. This is something we definitely use in our communication to attract new talents.
Another factor is that we do not demand a lot of experience or knowledge from the staff we recruit, since we train them. You have to be 20 years old and have a positive attitude and great personality. We “hire for attitude and train for skill” - it is easier than the other way around. As an international casino we also receive a fair amount if spontaneous applications from around Europe. For us it is an advantage to have such a diverse workforce when we are meeting our guests.
Something else that is worth noting is that 55% of our managers are women, this differentiates us from the gambling world in general and it gives us a good balance in our management group. We are happy and proud of this development and our plan is to maintain this percentage in the future recruitment of managers
What are the procedures in place at Casino Cosmopol to tackle money laundering?
Yes, money laundering, and not the least, terrorist financing, is a serious issue. We welcome and support the recent push of FATF and the European Parliament to extend the vital obligation to counter money laundering throughout all of the gambling industry.
At Casino Cosmopol we have worked with this important task since the start in 2001. Historically, when some casinos were deeply tied to the mafia, the casino business was particularly prone to be used for money laundering purposes. Vast sums of illicit money could be funnelled through the casinos’ back doors so to say.
As a state owned and thoroughly supervised casino obviously that risk is precluded at Casino Cosmopol. Other than that it is important to map out risks and develop strong and effective policies and procedures for “Know Your Customer”, “Customer Due Diligence”, “Suspicious Transaction Reporting” etc. At the end of the day, much of the staff is involved and it is therefore critical to train and train again.
What are the popular table games at the Casino Cosmopol Stockholm?
Our most popular games are Black Jack, Roulette and Poker, we also have Punto Banco a popular game which is similar to Baccarat that we don’t have at the moment.
We are looking at additional table games for next year – so keep your eyes open!
What is your policy of trialling new games and EGM’s?
As a state-owned company we are obliged to follow the law that dictates public procurement in Sweden. Therefore, we cannot try out or purchase games from any other supplier than the ones that are contracted. In the last round of procurement, we had two completely new suppliers – Aristocrat and Merkur. We have not had the time to get them ready and onto the gaming floor yet but we are excited about having some new suppliers.
We try to make things happening in the casino to make it exciting to come to us. One of the things we do for our guests is a concept called” Limited Edition” on our slots. It is a couple of premium slot machines with well-known themes such as Michael Jackson, Avatar and Batman. They tour our four casinos and stay approximately 3 months in each casino. The idea is to offer slots that are a bit different and extra fun. Whenever we premier these games we have an event with staff dressed up as let’s say Michael Jackson and we treat our guests to excellent food and drink (non-alcoholic) from Jackpot Grill & Bar– it is a concept that both staff and guests love to participate in.
Promotions and incentives are an important mix of patron loyalty what are the provisions like at Casino Cosmopol as far as prizes and rewards for patrons?
Because we have such a strong focus on Responsible Gaming, provisions and incentives really have no place in our Casino. Our main focus lies on the personal touch and the hosting instead. We put great focus on the games to be fun and that our guests should play responsibly. We are working proactively with responsible gaming and have a close dialogue with our guests. In this way, we are a different gaming company.
Quality and affordability have been two key words associated with food and drink at Casinos catering for many of their local regular patrons what is Casino Cosmopol approach to food and beverage?
We have adapted our menus in the restaurant to suit our players and regulars. The player’s main concern is actually time; the food should arrive quickly. They prefer easy-going food like grilled meat with trimmings, at a reasonable price.
We also have satellite outlets around the casino where we offer a limited menu that contains more light snacks. This way the guests have easy access to food and drinks throughout the entire casino. Apart from that, we cater to all sorts of events and parties and have an array of menus to choose from for this type of happenings.
Casino Cosmopol Stockholm offers a wide range of international casino games, bars, great food and exciting entertainment – all under one roof, right downtown in the Capital of Sweden.
What makes Casino Cosmopol Stockholm unique?
The building is located in the absolute city centre of Stockholm and is almost a 100 years old. It is originally an old movie theatre that used to showcase spectacular grand premiers. It has also been a nightclub with artists like Ella Fitzgerald performing. Throughout the Casino we have created a very glamourous feeling. There are large crystal chandeliers and they each have 8,000 pendants and a cassette vaulted ceiling with impressive murals that also appears on the surrounding walls. It’s really beautiful!
There are five floors of slot machines, table games, restaurants and bars. Many of our guests are in fact surprised to find that, apart from the regular casino games, there is an array of entertainment options. As mentioned previously we have a new SportZone where we show sporting events from around the globe on large TV screens. Our newly renovated restaurant, Jackpot Grill is also the place for glittery, glamourous dance shows and other entertainment.
In the Casino we also offer fairs, PR and release parties as well as meeting and event opportunities for up to 500 people.
But the thing that I’m probably most proud of is of course our extraordinary staff. We have worked hard, and still do every single day, to make our guests feel welcome. All of us are aiming to be accessible, caring and committed to our guests and strive to create memories every day. Our wish is that every single guest that leaves us does so as a new ambassador for the Casino.