Gambling

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Whoever wins the election, casinos can expect to do well. The first part of deregulation - extension of drinking hours to 3am (2am in the provinces) and the signing-on period for new players reduced to 24 hours - came into effect this month. So how long do we have to wait before the second tranche - limited advertising and a big increase in slot machines (up to three per table game) - follows on? Given the time parliamentary processes take, it may be a few months. But there is no reason to doubt a successful outcome - once the new government realises that it stands to gain up to pounds 100m via additional gaming revenue. A nice little earner, indeed.

Meanwhile the London scene remains on hold. A takeover bid by London Clubs International, owner of Les Ambassadeurs and the Ritz Club, for its main rival, Capital Corporation, operator of Crockford's and the Colony, has been referred to the Monopolies Commission. Bad news for LCI, which had hoped to collar high-roller gaming in Mayfair (apart from Aspinall's) for itself, like a private game. The delay offers Ladbroke's, only recently back in casinos, a chance to make a bid on its own account. With thriving casino interests in the US and international hotels, the group has ambitions to become a major player. London is the solid home base for expansion abroad.

The casinos of the "Mayfair strip" are on a winning streak, thanks to the steady influx of high-rollers, mainly from the Far East and the Arab world. Such players will bet up to pounds 2,000 on a single number at roulette or up to pounds 50,000 a box at blackjack. (British punters don't have that kind of money.) Sometimes they win very big. But the casinos know that if these premium customers return, as they usually do, they are unlikely to hang on to their winnings for long. LCI believes that if it gained control of the high-roller market, it could smooth out the swings of fortune between one casino and another. In any case, it plans to move the Ritz Club under a new name to palatial new premises in St. James's Street next summer. The story is not over yet.

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