Casino operator’s withdrawal leaves trade body floundering

The beleaguered casino industry suffered a fresh blow after the second of the UK‘s two dominant operators declared it was pulling out of the sector’s oncepowerful trade body.

Rank’s resignation from the British Casino Association means the association will have even less clout when arguing with ministers over future issues such as taxation.

The BCA, which had already been hit by Gala Coral’s departure in October, is left contemplating the radical options of a slimmed-down operation or even outright disbandment.

The turmoil over the industry’s leadership comes at a time when it is suffering economic hardship. Swingeing tax rises, coupled with the smoking ban and the economy-wide downturn, have hit profits. Although the government has given the green light to 17 new small and medium-sized casinos, because of local antipathy it is highly uncertain they will see the light of day.

Rank said it was resigning to save its GBP 140,000-a-year membership costs but there have been calls within the industry for casinos to rethink the way they are represented.

Gala, which has said its exit was for strategic reasons, wants to establish a national gambling association, believing that many of the issues of importance to different parts of the sector overlap and would be better represented by a single entity. Like Rank, Gala is a bingo operator and has an online betting operation, but it is also the UK‘s third biggest bookmaker.

Rank’s Grosvenor Casinos and Gala Casinos account for 58 of the country’s 140 outlets, and without their voice the BCA will be less able to sway government regulation. Genting Stanley and London Clubs International remain members.

The BCA said members had been considering how it should best argue its case with the government and other bodies such as the Gambling Commission. „Those discussions have now advanced considerably, and we hope soon to be in a position to announce new arrangements which will ensure the industry is comprehensively represented. In the meantime it is business as usual.“

One BCA insider said it was looking at becoming a „slimmer, cheaper and more dynamic“ body. The casino industry’s interests would continue to be pushed by the BCA, he insisted – but would probably be integrated into a wider body.

The association’s decline follows 18 months of turmoil for an industry that only a few years ago looked primed for rapid expansion. Tony Blair’s support for supercasinos while he was prime minister prompted a flood of Las Vegas operators to set up in the UK, and resulted in Harrah’s buying up LCI and Malaysian operator Genting to snap up Stanley Casinos. But the plans began to unravel in the face of a public backlash even before Mr Blair left office.