Ladbroke acts to calm City casino fears: Group says it expects no problems with Gaming Board over pounds 50m acquisition

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LADBROKE Group, the hotels to betting company, last night moved to quash City speculation that it faces problems gaining Gaming Board approval for the purchase of three London casinos for about pounds 50m from Trevor Hemmings, the leisure operator.

Ladbroke was banned from running casinos in 1979 after allegations that it tried to win business from rival clubs by improper means. The company is now substantially under new management following the retirement of Cyril Stein, the former chairman.

Peter George, Ladbroke's new chief executive, is known to be keen to run casinos again and is in detailed discussions with Mr Hemmings, who owns City Clubs. City operates three casinos: Maxims, the Golden Horseshoe and Charlie Chester's. Mr Hemmings made his money by buying Pontins holiday camps and later selling them to Scottish and Newcastle Breweries.

The City was expecting the deal with Mr Hemmings to be completed soon but in the past few days there have been suggestions that informal soundings with the Gaming Board have caused it to back-pedal. Ladbroke has not made a formal application to the Gaming Board and cannot do so until the acquisition is completed.

'If and when we enter into the UK casino industry we know of no reason why there should be any problem with the Gaming Board,' Ladbroke said last night.

'Ladbroke currently holds licences in respect of gambling in a number of highly regulated jurisdictions, including the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, the US and South America following rigorous vetting by the relevant licensing authorities. We are confident that the Gaming Board will consider the application from the company in the normal way.'

It declined to say whether it had made any informal approaches to the Gaming Board.

Although Ladbroke's expulsion from casinos was 15 years ago, the furore in the gambling industry has not been forgotten to this day.

Expulsion followed an undercover operation by Gaming Board inspectors that resulted in a court appearance by Mr Stein, who admitted the company had broken rules. He insisted, though, that he had not sanctioned the operation.

Magistrates refused to renew the casino licences, ruling that the company was not run by 'fit and proper' persons.