Bingo up in smoke

The impact of the new smoking ban in Scotland has led many bingo operators in England and Wales to become very nervous, with the smoking ban moving down south in the middle of next year. The ban in Scotland has reduced revenues by up to 15 percent in some clubs, with a 90 percent fall in profits, according to Gala Coral chief executive Neil Goulden .

"There's been quite a marked impact in Scotland where revenues are down between 5 and 15 percent," Goulden commented at a Business In Sport Leisure conference.

"Most badly impacted are the smaller venues like converted cinemas and those are the ones that are most important to local communities," he added.

According to the Bingo Association, five halls have closed down and some operators have reported a loss in revenue of up to 27 percent since the smoking ban’s introduction with many more predicted to follow.

However, the ban is not likely to affect the larger operators such as Goulden’s Gala Coral and the other big players, Mecca and Top Ten Holdings.

Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, chairman of Top Ten, believes the bingo sector can move with the changes and deal with the transition.

"The industry grew out of people converting cinemas. So the format tended to follow a cinema format. You paid an entrance fee, had a bit of a pre-run and an interval, and then the main feature. We can be flexible; we can have shorter sessions or longer sessions."

Brocklebank is also believes, akin to the effect the U.S online anti-gambling legislation has had on online casino operators, that out of uncertainty, acquisition and merger possibilities may present themselves.

"We don't think it is going to be a catastrophe," he said. "There's been a lot of scaremongering, and that may provide us with buying opportunities."

Nonetheless, with the social perception of bingo going through a marked changed recently, the industry may find that the new smoking ban can lead to attracting more non-smokers. Likewise, Gala coral have reported that more people are visiting their clubs since the ban was rolled out.

Steven Baldwin, from the Bingo Association, believes players go to bingo because it provides a “shared experience” and, owing to a cultural shift in society, this has led its popularity to soar.

More than £1 billion is staked in every year on bingo games in Britain, with jackpots getting progressively bigger. However, most bingo players say they play bingo for social reasons more than the possible financial rewards.

Editor, - 2006-12-01 11:22:35

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