The UK’s biggest casino operator, The Rank Group, reported a slump in earnings as high-rollers ditched its Grosvenor Casinos chain in in the 16 weeks to October 14.

Grosvenor casinos

One analyst said it’s no surprise the high-rollers have deserted Grosvenor casinos because some of them are in less than salubrious places. (Image: Grosvenor Casinos)

In a trading update, the group blamed a reduction in handle — the volume of bets placed — as well as lower margins from high-spending customers for a year-on-year dip of 7.2 percent at its 56 casinos in the UK.

Meanwhile, visitors to Rank’s Mecca bingo halls also stayed away, with sales falling 5 percent during the period, helping to drag down earnings across the entire group by 4.9 percent.

The numbers reflect a long-term decline in the popularity of live bingo, but the continued slump comes despite recent promotional experiments by Rank to attract a different demographic — such as “Bingo Breakfasts” and “Bingo Raves.”

The company has been forced to issue profit warnings this year and in August reported a 40 percent fall in pre-tax profits for the year to June.

Breaking Ranks Online

The silver lining was Rank’s digital arm — and MeccaBingo.com, in particular, which climbed 6.2 percent. But Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown told City AM Thursday that the nature of Rank’s business is essentially land-based.

“Rank’s real world venues suffered from lower footfall, perhaps not a surprise given the convenience of the online alternatives and relatively sub-prime locations that many occupy,” he told City A.M.

“But Rank’s USP is it’s physical presence. Online it has lots of so-called ‘digital native’ competitors — it needs its physical casinos and bingo halls to set it apart from the crowd if it’s going to get a slice of the growing digital market,” he added.

GVC Cleans Up with World Cup

One such online competitor is GVC, which acquired the UK’s largest retail sports betting business this year through its takeover of Ladbrokes Coral.

GVC issued a rosier trading update on Thursday, reporting online net gaming revenue had rocketed 28 per cent in Q3 compared to last year, driven by online sports betting and the soccer World Cup.

However, despite the tournament and England’s better than expected performance in it, like-for-like retail earnings in the UK were down 2 percent. Now the UK’s largest land-based bookmaker, the company is more exposed than its competitors to losses in revenues that will occur when the government’s fixed-odds betting terminal reforms come into play.

Maximum stakes on the divisive machines are due to drop from £100 per spin to £2 in 2020, but this week it was reported that Chancellor Philip Hammond would face an all-party revolt unless he expedited the reforms.