* Online bingo makes more profit than halls for Rank
* Revenues fall after snowy January in Britain
* Troubled betting business dents first half profit
By Keith Weir
LONDON, Jan 31 It may lack the noisy camaraderie
of a trip to the bingo hall, but the online version of the
numbers game has proved more profitable for Britain's Rank Group
than the original.
The merits of the online business were further emphasised
when Rank said a snowy January had cost it 3 million pounds
($4.7 million) in revenue as Britons opted not to venture out to
its bingo halls and casinos.
Operating profit from online bingo was 11.4 million pounds,
just beating the 11.1 million earned from the venues themselves.
The company, majority owned by Malaysia's Guoco,
reported a 4 percent decline in pretax profit to 31.3 million
pounds in the six months to December, with its loss-making Blue
Square betting business proving a drag.
Many parts of Britain have seen heavy snow over the last two
weeks and there are fears that the bad weather will hit economic
activity and push the country back into recession.
Pub groups Enterprise Inns and Mitchell & Butlers
both said the recent cold snap had hit sales.
"Allowing for the slow start to the second half we remain
confident in our prospects for the remainder of the year and in
our longer-term growth strategy," Rank Chief Executive Ian Burke
Rank's main activities are in Britain where it runs 35
Grosvenor Casinos and more than 100 Mecca bingo clubs.
Profits growth in its online bingo business mirrors that in
the gambling industry as a whole where online betting is the
fastest growing part of the market, helped by the popularity of
smart phones and tablets.
However, Rank has said it is reviewing the future of its own
struggling online betting business Blue Square, a relative
minnow in a crowded sector.
"We felt the losses were not losses we could continue to
sustain," said Burke.
Blue Square reported an operating loss of 4.8 million pounds
in the six months and Rank has now cut its spending on marketing
"There were 11 or 12 competitors advertising and that
spending just wasn't cutting through," said Burke.
He declined to comment further on the future of the business
pending completion of the review.
Rank is awaiting regulatory clearance for a planned 205
million pound deal to buy the casino business of Gala Coral.
A preliminary report by the Competition Commission said Rank
could have to sell six casinos to get the deal approved.