Major casino companies bet on Britain

Laden with billions of dollars, the world’s biggest gambling firms are in the midst of an unprecedented international expansion drive. Macau, Singapore, Slovenia and Spain have become key territories for firms such as Las Vegas Sands, Harrah’s and MGM Mirage. Now, the British market seems to be the one of most interesting for the biggest casino companies.

Four years ago, the world’s biggest casino giants aggressively lobbied Tony Blair. The Prime Minister gave US gambling chiefs the green light to build dozens of supercasinos full of slot machines in Britain. Two years ago, the same companies were forced to leave after the government backtracked on its casino liberalisation plans.

Now, a rethink has led to a new strategy: buying British gambling companies. The strategy is now being activated. Harrah’s, the world’s biggest casino firm, is set to snap up London Clubs International (LCI) for USD 522 million – loose change for the USD 12 billion company.

Industry insiders believe that MGM Mirage, the giant US entertainment combine, will move to buy a UK firm. It is unlikely to counterbid for LCI, but analysts believe it could pounce on the Rank Group, the one-time conglomerate that owns 35 British casinos and is the second biggest bingo operator through its Mecca brand.

Las Vegas Sands – the most successful American company at winning licences overseas – may also look to break into the UK. It already has plans to open casinos at several British football clubs.