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Older customers cautious over return to bingo halls says Mecca owner

By PA News

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The boss of Mecca Bingo’s parent company has said it must be “patient” over the recovery of its venues amid continued caution among its older clientele despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

John O’Reilly, chief executive of The Rank Group, said sales are “taking longer” to rebound across the bingo arm than its Grosvenor Casinos business due to higher age of its customer base.

He told the PA news agency: “Our customers at Mecca are more cautious so we have to be patient.

“We have seen a strong but steady return but Omicron did move that back.

“Bingo is a core part of these people’s weekly routines, but, for many, they have been understandably concerned about Covid and protecting themselves so we realise it will take longer for them to have that confidence coming back.”

Rank told shareholders on Thursday that net gaming revenue jumped by 88% to £333.7 million for the six months to the end of December, compared with the same period last year.

However, it added that caution over the spread of Omicron, as well as distancing restrictions in Scotland and Wales, “negatively impacted trading” in November and December.

Rank Group also operates the Grosvenor Casinos business (Jane Barlow/PA)
Rank Group also operates the Grosvenor Casinos business (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr O’Reilly said he is “optimistic” now that Plan B restrictions have been eased in England and there has been some easing of measures across Scotland and Wales.

Rank said its venues business saw a 168% increase in revenues over the half-year but stressed that this is still a fifth below its pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

It added that sales across Grosvenor Casinos steadily grew during the half-year but stalled in December due to Omicron.

It also said its London casinos – which typically represent more than 40% of Grosvenor’s trade – saw a jump in activity after international travel restrictions were eased in October.

Mr O’Reilly added: “Whilst the trading environment continues to be challenging and cost headwinds are applying additional pressure on the hospitality sector, we have proven that, with no restrictions, our trading rebounds quickly.

“Rank is well positioned to regain the robust revenue and profit growth momentum we had created before the pandemic struck.”

Shares in the company were 4% higher at 154.8 in early trading on Thursday.

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