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UK

Rain eases smoking ban pain for Bingo clubs

LONDON (Reuters) - Revenue at England’s bingo clubs has dropped since a smoking ban started this month, but the decline has been limited by bad weather encouraging more punters into the clubs, the head of the UK’s biggest bingo firm said.

A printer lays a no smoking sign alongside others at First Safety Signs in Bishops Stortford in eastern England, June 29, 2007. Revenue at England's bingo clubs has dropped since a smoking ban started this month, but the decline has been limited by bad weather encouraging more punters into the clubs, the head of the UK's biggest bingo firm said. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Neil Goulden, chief executive of Europe’s biggest gambling firm Gala Coral, told Reuters the wet weather had helped limit the impact of the smoking ban by driving customers from their waterlogged gardens into its bingo clubs.

Continual downpours have affected large parts of England and led to the worst flooding in decades.

“It’s very early days but it’s not as bad as Scotland (after the smoking ban there) and quite promising ... I’d say around mid single digits (fall in revenues), about 6 or 7 percent at the moment,” he said.

“But we are measuring against a pretty poor period last year when we had the (soccer) World Cup and some very hot weather and of course we’ve had some not so hot weather recently,” he added.

With 170 clubs, Gala is Britain’s biggest bingo operator, ahead of Rank which has 113 Mecca bingo halls. Both firms saw revenue drop around 15 percent in Scotland when the ban was introduced there a year ago.

Smoking bans hit bingo halls in a number of ways -- many bingo players are older women and some stop going because they don’t want to have to stand outside to indulge their habit.

Those who still go step out to smoke in breaks between games instead of playing highly profitable gaming machines, which can earn bingo clubs up to 75 percent of their profits.

Goulden also welcomed news that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would meet with one member of Parliament to discuss reducing tax on bingo clubs.

“We are delighted that the Prime Minister is willing to meet, we have been saying for six years now that the tax on bingo is iniquitous.

“We are talking to the new team in the Treasury. We know there are a few people in DCMS (Department of Media, Culture and Sport) that support us and we know there are a few people in the treasury that support us,” he added.

Bingo firms have long complained that bingo is taxed twice -- once when VAT is charged on the price players pay for each bingo game (participation fee) and again on gross profits (the participation fee minus the money paid out in prizes).

They also argue that bricks and mortar bingo clubs are at a disadvantage to Internet rivals who are not required pay VAT on participation fees.

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