Games: gambling

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The high-roller market in London is on a roller-coaster. London, after all, is the only capital city in the world with serious casino gambling. The "drop", or money gambled, at London's 21 casinos last year was pounds 1,725m, out of which the casinos held close to 18 per cent, or well over pounds 300m. A nice little earner, as anyone can see.

Licensing proceedings for a new casino at the Ritz, which if successful would bring the total to 22 casinos, open on 9 October. The new casino is the ambition of the Barclay brothers, who run hotels in Monte Carlo and elsewhere, and also publish The European. The site, underneath the Ritz Hotel, is available because the present Ritz Club, run by London Clubs International, is moving to palatial new premises round the corner in St James's Street. "50 St James" as it is named, is set to open next July. LCI, which has about 40 per cent of the high-roller market in London, with seven casinos, is opposing a new gaming licence at the Ritz. The lawyers for each side will argue the basic issue of whether "unstimulated demand", in the language of the Gaming Board, can be shown to exist, or not.

Capital Corporation, the other principal high-stakes operator, owns Crockford's and the Colony in Mayfair, and has just acquired a third property, the downmarket Cromwell Mint in Cromwell Road. Capital was successful in fending off a recent takeover bid by London Clubs, which was blocked by the Monopolies Commission. Its latest figures showed a profit of pounds 11m, less pounds 4m spent on fighting the takeover. The gaming industry is still rife with speculation, however, that a new bidder may appear, with Ladbroke's an obvious candidate. John Aspinall, who is expanding his club in Curzon Street, remains the sole owner-operator in this lucrative market.

So what is a high roller? The maximum limits are currently pounds 2,000 on a single number at roulette, which pays 35-1, and pounds 50,000 at punto banco and pounds 25,000 a box at blackjack, which pay even money. Aspinall will go to pounds 2,500 on a number at roulette, for customers who want it. Most high rollers come from Asia. Competition for their custom remains intense. The question is: will the troubles of the tiger economies spill over into Mayfair? The risks are clear enough.