Crockfords in luck on 16% advance and 2.5p payout

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TEN high-rollers accounted for more than half the money gambled at Crockfords' roulette and blackjack tables last year, helping the company to lift operating profits by 16 per cent to pounds 23m.

Their identities are being kept secret, with Crockfords keen to preserve what it terms a high-value base of customers. The total amount gambled - the 'drop' - is also being kept secret

Total turnover - the drop less winnings paid out - rose from pounds 44.4m to pounds 51.3m, of which the Treasury picked up pounds 15.3m in gaming duty before collecting pounds 8.7m in corporation tax.

Investors will receive a 2.5p dividend, equal to an annualised gross 6.25 per cent yield on the shares, which were listed last September after the reverse takeover of the shell TV-am television company. The shares rose 3p to 151p yesterday.

Crockfords, based in London's Mayfair, finished the year with a net pounds 20m of cash in the bank, which will help to fund purchases.

'It is our stated intention to expand, and we are actively pursuing an acquisition. It makes sense to buy a second and third club in London,' Garry Nisbitt, the chairman, said.

He confirmed that Crockfords had looked at the Clermont Club, owned by Rank Organisation. However, he added: 'Anything can be bought if you overpay, which we will not. And when we are really tucked up in bed where we would like to see ourselves in London, we would like to look at management contract arrangements abroad.'

Analysts said it was difficult to forecast profits for Crockfords, but believed it would edge ahead and would benefit from the removal of interest charges - pounds 2.8m in 1993.

They also welcomed the forthcoming introduction on 1 April of individual licences for executives, in addition to the statutory gaming licence for casinos.