Bingo hall boom as Mecca owner Rank sees venues beat post-lockdown expectations

Bosses at casino and bingo hall owner Rank Group have said its venues have performed beyond expectations since reopening in May after pandemic closures dragged the company to a steep loss.

They told investors on Thursday that further growth is anticipated as “travel restrictions eventually ease and tourism returns, particularly to London”.

Rank, which owns the Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos brands, hailed “encouraging progress” across its brands since restrictions were eased on May 17.

Recently we’ve done really well in places like Blackpool and Bournemouth because people are looking for that entertainment thrill in the UK this year John O’Reilly, Rank Group

It said sales across its Grosvenor venues for the 13 weeks to August 15 were 19% below levels from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic struck.

Meanwhile, its Mecca Bingo halls have reported sales for the period which were 21% down against the same period in 2019.

It came as the company plunged to a £92.9 million operating loss for the year to June 30, swinging from a £21.5 million profit a year earlier.

Rank Group chief executive John O’Reilly said he is “delighted” the year is over after an “exceptionally challenging” period for the business.

He added that the firm has had a particularly tough trading period in London where it has nine casinos.

Electronic gaming manager Julie Baxter cleans the screens at the Grosvenor Edinburgh Maybury Casino after opening on May 17 (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

“Since reopening we are down around 40% in London because we are still missing that international tourist market but things are improving with more staycations,” the boss told the PA news agency.

“Recently we’ve done really well in places like Blackpool and Bournemouth because people are looking for that entertainment thrill in the UK this year.”

The company said its net gaming revenues slid by 48% to £329.6 million over the year, as it was particularly affected by venue closures.

Rank said it lost £15 million a month during the height of the pandemic as it was completely unable to trade from its halls and casinos.

The firm also saw a “year of transition” for its UK digital business as it made progress with online platform technology, although revenue “disappointed”.

There is a renewed sense of confidence John O’Reilly, Rank Group

Mr O’Reilly said: “We are now well into a new financial year with our venues open and trading positively.

“Good progress is being made in our digital businesses and there is a renewed sense of confidence as we focus on the growth initiatives within our clearly defined transformation programme.

“Rank was delivering strong revenue and profit growth before the pandemic and the steps we have taken over the last 18 months, particularly in carefully managing our liquidity and developing the transformation plans, will enable the group to return to that growth trajectory as the impact of the pandemic reduces and consumer confidence for indoor leisure experiences grows.”