UPDATE 1-UK competition body gives reduced Rank-Gala deal go ahead
LONDON Feb 19 (Reuters) - Britain's Competition Commission has given the green light to gaming operator Rank 's proposed acquisition of a rival casino business, provided some changes are made to the original deal, it said on Tuesday.
Rank agreed in May last year to buy the casino business of private equity-owned Gala Coral in a 205 million pound ($317 million) deal which would add 23 UK casinos to its existing 35-strong chain and make it Britain's biggest casino operator.
The initial deal has lapsed but the parties are still pursuing the merger.
The competition body said that the deal will be permitted as long as the casinos in Aberdeen, Stockton-on-Tees, Bristol and Cardiff are not included.
In addition, Rank must sell the licence it holds in Edinburgh to an upfront buyer approved by the Competition Commission or it will also be prohibited from buying the Gala casino in Edinburgh, it said.
It said in December that Rank had to also sell a sixth casino in Liverpool, but said that further analysis had cleared Liverpool from being one of the problem areas.
"We think that removing the casinos in problem areas from the deal and requiring Rank to sell the Edinburgh cold licence to an upfront buyer will protect the interests of customers" said Martin Cave, deputy chairman of the Competition Commision.
"The excluded casinos are all profitable and so we believe that they will continue to act as viable competitors to Rank in these areas," he said.
The Competition Commission also said Rank, majority-owned by Malaysia's Guoco Group and Genting, also Malaysia owned, would be the only two large national casino operators in Britain following the deal.