CEO Michael Silberling brings a cosmopolitan experience to Metropolitan Gaming. By David McKee
For a new company looking to make an impression on the international stage, Metropolitan Gaming could hardly have chosen better than to tap Michael Silberling as its CEO. Not only is he vastly experienced in operations around the world, he is intimately familiar with Caesars Entertainment, from whose empire Silver Point Capital snapped up a far-flung portfolio of assets to form Metropolitan, reaching from the banks of the Nile to the snows of Glasgow.
Silberling got his start as a general manager and regional president within Caesars’ precursor, Harrah’s Entertainment. From there he went to London Clubs International, where he oversaw the Playboy Casino in London, and gambling venues as far-flung as Beirut and Johannesburg. When London Clubs was folded into Caesars, the latter saw the value of Silberling’s experience and rewarded him with the presidency of its international operations. In 2014, Silberling struck out on his own as CEO of locals-oriented Affinity Gaming in the Southern Nevada region. A stint as Chief Operating Officer of Mohegan Gaming Entertainment followed before the pandemic ensued.
In August of 2021, Metropolitan beckoned and Silberling is back at the helm of many of the same casinos he steered for Caesars. They run the gamut from locals-oriented Manchester 235 to London’s locals/international Empire Casino, where table games dominate, to international-players-only Ramses Casino in Cairo, with its narrower repertory of games on offer. Silberling spoke to us about his new remit from his home in London.
Michael, when last we spoke, you were at the helm of Affinity Gaming. Now you’re steering one of the industry’s most cosmopolitan companies. How has the change been for you?
I was at Affinity and I was working with Silver Point Capital, the owners of Metropolitan Gaming. As you say, I’m now back in the UK with a similar property portfolio to the last time I was here with Caesars’ European, Middle Eastern and African (EMEA) properties. The difference is that this time we have the support of Silver Point and a renewed focus on growth through acquisitions, refurbishments, and product investment. I think it’s obvious that Caesars’ focus was largely on their domestic U.S. business and balance sheet, which didn’t leave much time for the EMEA business.
Could you walk us through the process through which Metropolitan Gaming was born? How were you able to swoop in and capture Caesars Entertainment’s international assets?
I can’t take credit for that, unfortunately. I don’t think it was any secret that Caesars were looking to exit the UK and that there had been many suitors. Our owners, Silver Point Capital, had been involved with Caesars in the past, saw the opportunity and decided to act. It was a competitive sale process with a number of bidders, but Metropolitan had the right balance sheet coupled with a keen interest in the business and were quickly able to close on the sale.
You have 11 distinct properties, too many to walk us all through. Which are the most exotic?
Metropolitan has a wide geographic scope, from a zoo in a game park in South Africa to a business on the banks of the River Nile, but our main focus at the moment is the UK and, as you’ll have seen from our recent acquisition of the Park Lane Club, London in particular.
How much do your gambling offerings differ, depending on the local culture?
Even in London our target markets vary widely, from the Empire, which sits on the edge of Chinatown, to the Sportsman, where the customer base is primarily from the Middle East, and our largely international Mayfair Casino. We tailor the operation to these markets and vary gaming, our food offering and the environment to suit the primary cultures. Perhaps the most significant differences though are determined by the regulatory environment. Staying safe, secure and compliant is always a primary focus for us, wherever we are.
What about marketing? Are there nation-specific constraints with which you have to deal?
There are, particularly in Egypt, but we are active across all channels and therefore have a whole range of tools available, whatever the restrictions, to be able to deliver against our strategic objectives.
We continually review our marketing technology and our digital and customer-relationship management programmes to ensure that we are adapting and evolving in the digital world. One of our most recent developments which is proving very popular with customers is our new app. Since it launched a number of weeks ago we’ve been able to reach a whole new group of customers in a more targeted way, delivering offers and information directly into their hands. We’ll be continuing to develop the app as a key communications channel moving forward.
Is your player base international or local? If it varies, how much by casino to casino?
London is our most cosmopolitan market with a strong mix of international and domestic, but there’s no hard and fast rule as our customer mix varies not only by club, but time of year. Our provincial UK casinos are largely domestic and in Egypt it’s international, as customers require an international passport to enter the casinos.
Metropolitan takes particular pride in the Empire Casino in Leicester Square. What makes this property so iconic?
The Empire, one of the largest casinos in London, opened in 2007, and was designed by renowned hospitality and gaming architect Paul Steelman. With a diverse customer base, it is iconic in the London market and occupies a fantastic position in the West End, one of the most visited places in London and home to Soho and theatre-land. The casino is located right next to the bustling Chinatown district in the heart of Leicester Square, the home of film in the UK. And the club’s Icon Balcony Bar has played host to many famous faces over the years at glitzy premiere parties. I’m very excited about refurbishing and breathing new life into the venue and evolving our offering to deliver the best gaming, dining and entertainment venue in the West End.
In the UK, how much cross-play are you able to generate with the new Met Card?
The Met Card launched earlier this year and the feedback from our customers has been fantastic. We’ve moved away from our legacy card tiers and created a brand-new structure to the programme, giving our top-tier Ace, King and Queen customers an unrivaled benefits package. Crossover is obviously strongest in London and, as we grow, we know that this will increase even further.
Do you have any apprehensions about the Conservative administration’s forthcoming White Paper on gambling?
The UK government has a unique opportunity to modernise an industry which is languishing with regulation from a couple of decades ago. So we are working collaboratively with others in the industry to lobby for positive outcomes from the review, whilst ensuring that the industry is safe and protects the vulnerable. Their choice is clear: Modernise the industry or take it back to the dark ages and destroy it. Ignoring this opportunity to progress will do damage to the taxpayer and stifle employment, tourism and capital investment in the UK.
You have three casinos in Egypt. First, how stable is the political situation there and, secondly, how do you differentiate the three properties in their appeal?
I’m definitely not a geopolitical expert but, having worked in the region, I do think the Egyptian government has stabilised and is committed to the region’s future as a business hub; the huge levels of construction in the area are definitely indicative of that. Our three properties are quite diverse in terms of geography and brand with two in Hilton Hotels, one near the Pyramids and one on the banks of the River Nile, and the third near the airport, ideally positioned for international travelers.
Emerald Casino in South Africa is clearly oriented for the vacationer. What do you have on offer besides gambling?
Emerald is an amazing property with fantastic staff who deliver great service and a fabulous range of amenities on a beautiful river. There’s a zoo and game park too, so there’s enough to keep even the most curious traveler occupied during their visit.
Closer to home, how would you differentiate the appeal of, say, Rendezvous Brighton or Alea Glasgow from your London properties?
At Metropolitan we tailor all our properties to their local market and that will continue as we rebrand them locally to Metropolitan. Casinos all have similar games, machines and food offerings, but what differentiates them is the welcome you get from the team and the attentive and efficient service they deliver.
What is the significance of the Alea brand?
As we move forward our focus will be on building the new Metropolitan brand. Whilst our diverse brand portfolio has been important in their local markets, now is the time to build an international brand and leverage the strength that comes with it.
Do you have any expansion plans, either within the Metropolitan infrastructure or in terms of new casinos?
So I’m sure you’ve seen that we acquired the Park Lane Casino just a few weeks ago and we’re currently working up plans to refurbish and rebrand the venue. Adding to our portfolio is always a possibility and we will selectively review any new opportunities as they arise.
Are there new territories you would like to enter?
We have a largely European focus at present and, as you can see from the Park Lane Club acquisition, we are very open to selectively exploring a variety of strategic options.
Would Metropolitan’s growth be organic or done via merger and/or acquisition?
Having just emerged from the pandemic, the team’s current focus is definitely on organic growth.
How was business in 2021 and what are your projections for 2022?
There have been so many unprecedented challenges over the last few years: a world pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis and Brexit to name a few. We are very happy to be back open and trading again and our focus remains on stabilising and growing the business this year.
Finally, looking ahead, what about Metropolitan’s future should we anticipate?
It’s a very exciting time for us. There is an energy in our business that has been missing for years. We have a new owner that is very experienced in the gaming sector and is willing to invest in our people, technology, refurbishments, and acquisitions. It couldn’t be a better time for us. But specifically? Well, we anticipate launching online for the first time in early 2023 and there’s much more to come.