Comment: Safe bet Goodenough bid not good enough

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The Independent Online
London Clubs' hostile bid for Capital Corporation is an each-way bet, the corporate equivalent of putting chips on both red and black. Having made much of its overseas forays, most recently into the bright lights of Las Vegas, the owner of the Ritz and Les Ambassadeurs casinos is now punting on the more discreet money circulating Mayfair's gaming dens. Either way it is a gamble on the swelling tide of deregulation in the world's betting markets.

A one-way bet it is not, however, and Capital, owner of Crockfords and the Colony Club, has no plans to roll over with its dice. Alan Goodenough, London's chief executive, will come in for ribbing about his name over the next few weeks, because his bid is almost certainly not - good enough, that is.

It is certainly opportunistic, coming a matter of weeks after Capital warned its profits would suffer from an absence of foreign high-rollers - casinos have been one of the less well publicised victims of the soaring pound. On a price/earnings multiple in the high twenties, Capital might not seem cheap by the standards of industrial companies, but it is by no means expensive for a business that comes second only to the lottery as a licence to print money.

As with any scarce asset, the price of casino tables is also driven largely by their rarity value. Deregulation threatens to bring blackjack to the boon docks for the first time, but in the capital the number of casinos, and access to them, is likely to remain limited for a while yet. Long- term, however, the ludicrous regulations governing the industry - no credit cards, 48-hour cooling-off periods, restricted machines - will be swept away and the odds on licence holders scooping the jackpot will shorten dramatically. Mr Goodenough has not yet paid enough.