Across Europe casinos have been in decline in recent years. Fall-out from the economic downturn has reduced consumer income at a time when the consumer has a wider variety of leisure pursuits than ever before. In the midst of turbulent times, Brussels saw the launch of Viage.
The company discussed how the casino and entertainment venue has quickly established itself as a successful venture and benefactor to the local community.
Brussels has long been held up as a doyen for international business. While that remains the case, a recent splash of glamour has seen entertainment become en vogue with the arrival of Viage.
Viage offers the complete one-stop shop for adults seeking entertainment in Belgium’s capital, providing the full casino experience, food, drink and live entertainment. The company, part of the Casino Austria International group; launched in Brussels amid the despondency of an economic downturn.
The casino, which has relocated from CAI’s Grand Casino Brussels, was launched in an area of high unemployment, as part of an urban regeneration program. It has quickly become established as an integral part of the area’s economy, contributing the largest amount of tax for any business in that region of Brussels and employing 370 full-time staff, with many sub-contractors and local suppliers also involved in operations.
Twelve months on and the business offered a spectacular empire offering clients a variety of gaming and entertainment options, including Latin music clubs, a theatre, several restaurants and bars, a concert venue that plays host to artists like Prince and Kool and the Gang and a gastronomic restaurant – all spread across 14,000 square metres on nine levels in the heart of downtown Brussels.
Viage also caters for the city’s thousands of business visitors by offering state-of-the-art multimedia and conferencing facilities for functions.
“Business to business is very good for us,” the company affirmed “it is a very good entry point for the inexperienced gamer. In our first year we played host to roughly 350,000 people, which worked out at about 1,000 people a day. We are now up to 1,100 visitors each day of which up to 300 customers may be here purely for a show or to dine.
“We had our soft opening in March 2010 when the gaming zones were operational ahead of our grand launch on April 22nd last year. Our gaming zones (we have six different zones including 39 gaming tables, 365 slot machines, live bingo and sports betting) take up about a third of our floorspace and weighed-in with about 90 per cent of our revenue for our opening year, but we are looking to reduce that as we grow our revenues across the business.”
That includes changing the perception of casinos to a traditionally sceptical audience, used to reading negative headlines.
“We eventually want to see gaming provide 85 per cent of total revenues as people’s perceptions change and they realise they can visit us in the centre of Brussels just to eat or attend a show,” the company explained.
The company’s efforts to change perception are beginning to bear fruit: “We were given permission to drop the Casino Austria International badge and use Viage and we have appeared in over 456 press cuttings in Belgium alone in the last twelve months,” it stated.
Of equal importance will be the Belgian Gaming Act laws, which will determine the parameters for online gaming. It is an arena the business is keen to tap into and a major marketing campaign is currently on hold, pending the announcement of what online gaming hosts will be expected to provide:
“We are already a significant player in Brussels,” it indicated back in 2009, “but it is widely acknowledged that casinos across Europe have been in decline in recent years as customers have never had so much choice with their income and there are quirky laws in Belgium that were made to protect vulnerable players; this has an impact on how many slot machines we are allowed and limits our turnover, so the introduction of online gaming will provide exciting new opportunities.
“Once the operating protocols (for online gaming) are in place we will be ready to launch; we are more or less there but we need to see the legislation before we make any major investments in hardware or software programs. For the time being we are looking with the Gaming Commission at how that market will shape up, before we start our major advertising campaign.”
Viage, derived from the Italian word ‘viaggio’, meaning journey, has certainly been a roller-coaster ride for the past twelve months. The facilities played host to the late international pop star Prince on two occasions.
“In Belgium, although there is a significant leisure market, it is quite blinkered and boutique-focussed. We are a one-stop, fun shop for adults, providing everything under one roof. You can see a show, have dinner and go to the casino – you don’t have to leave,” the company summarised.