Bass buys Arthur Prince betting chain

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The Independent Online
JOHN SHEPHERD

Bass aims to take advantage of the easing of gaming regulations by buying the privately-owned Arthur Prince chain of 114 betting shops.

The chain will be reflagged under the name of Coral. This is the country's third largest betting shop operator with 910 outlets and forms part of Bass's expanding leisure operations - an activity which also includes Gala bingo.

Despite the betting shop industry being hard hit by the National Lottery, Bass said the acquisition would enhance earnings.

"I believe that we can increase the turnover per shop of the Arthur Prince estate by introducing Coral systems and standards of customer service," said Iain Napier, chief executive of Bass Leisure.

The Government is set to allow every betting shop to install two slot machines which, leisure analysts believe, will ease the competitive pressure from the Lottery. The added bonus for Bass is that it owns Barcrest, one of the country's main slot machine makers.

The deal will also expand Coral's geographical coverage. Most of the Arthur Prince shops, which employ 600 people, are in the south of England and Scotland, while Coral trades mainly in the North and the Midlands. The price of the purchase is not being disclosed.

The move also lays to rest rumours that Bass, headed by Sir Ian Prosser, would again try to exit the betting shop business, having failed a couple of years ago to find a buyer for Coral,which was one of the first chains to evolve after off-course betting was legalised in the early 1960s.

Betting shops have had a turbulent time in the last two years despite deregulation. Later evening opening hours have not been the boon that the industry expected, nor has the introduction of Sunday horse-racing. Last year witnessed the first fall in the average betting stake in living memory, and the industry has suffered heavily from the National Lottery.

A recent survey showed that more than 90 per cent of regular betting shop punters were spending between pounds 3 and pounds 10 a week on Lottery tickets.

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