My father, Jimmy Thomas, who died at the age of 88, loved scrap metal. During his work in the casino and gambling industry, he will face lawyers, planning authorities, European legislators, parking attendants – especially parking attendants – and people who have writes and rewrites gambling laws. He also had a highly publicized fight with david cameron who made headlines in 2012 – when he protested over VAT being charged on refurbishment work at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
His weapons of choice were common sense, tenacity, and a great memory of the rules…and how to bend them. He rarely lost a battle and he ensured that many others won theirs.
Born in Leicester to Doris (née Keeble) and John Thomas, Jimmy grew up in the family business of traveling fairs. He was sent to school in Uppingham, Rutland, with his two brothers, John and Michael.
Joining his father, he toured the country, eventually meeting Alma Darby at a dance party and falling in love. They married in 1958 and, wanting a more stable base on which to start a family, began to seek a way out of the itinerant life. Jimmy found a niche opportunity renting out slot machines to miners and social clubs.
Hard work brought success and in 1963 he founded Showboat Amusements, which he grew to around 120 arcades and a few bingo halls. Alongside it all was Thomas Automatics, a company making money changers and gaming equipment: “Constant innovation was my passion,” he told his children. Dad never stopped inventing and bringing opportunities to life. His creation of an electronic random number generator for gaming machines truly revolutionized the industry.
Dad and I built its crowning glory when we acquired Leicester Square Hippodrome in 2005 and turned it into the country’s pre-eminent casino and entertainment business. He taught me a fundamental lesson: you can’t run a business without being there, and he could often be found at the Hippodrome until the wee hours of a Saturday night/Sunday morning, texting me on what needed to be done better.
He was happiest with Alma by his side, and me and my sisters, Lisa and Carla, in the car, driving around the south of France with Supertramp on the 8-track. He had a Rolls-Royce and had a trailer built for all the suitcases, and one summer he even tied a boat on it for a little fun on the sea.
Dad often told us, “Always give something back. As children, we rolled out of bed on Christmas Day to get dressed and carry a bag of presents to the local hospital. My mother was the same. Lying in a ward at the Royal Marsden undergoing cancer treatment, she told dad to sell the ruby ring he gave her for their 40th birthday. It was to be the first installment of the £3million he eventually donated to refurbish a service there.
Alma passed away in 2008. Jimmy is survived by me and my sisters, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.