London Clubs' wheel of misfortune

THE JAMES BOND fantasy of strolling into a casino and casually winning millions came true for a handful of gamblers at London Clubs International's flagship casino, who halved the company's profits, forcing it to cut the dividend. Whether any of them were named Bond, the company declined to say.

Alan Goodenough, chief executive, said the exceptional luck of "less than five people" was responsible for the pounds 15m fall in pre-tax profits reported yesterday. "I'm not going to give any details as to their identity, otherwise we'll lose their custom," said Mr Goodenough. "But they are normal, run-of-the-mill high rollers we see year in, year out. Historically, they've always been losers, but for a short amount of time they became winners."

Gamblers usually lose an average of 18 per cent of the money they bet. However, the winning streak, which lasted from the end of February into April, cut that to under 10 per cent.

London Clubs was hit hard as its business is geared towards to the glamorous end of the market - the sort of casinos where dinner-jacketed punters arrive in sports cars. The 50 St James casino is fitted with antique tables, Persian rugs and glitzy chandeliers. Its reopening party in July featured bewigged butlers and women wearing dresses reminiscent of 18th-century costume dramas.

The winning roulette games were apparently played in private rooms. "There was no whooping or wailing when they won," said Mr Goodenough.

There was no suggestion of foul play, he said, dismissing suggestions someone had found a winning system for roulette; the win percentage had since returned to its usual levels.

London Clubs, whose turnover fell by pounds 24.2m to pounds 143.7m, is seeking to buy mid-market casinos attracting more but lower-spending gamblers. Meanwhile Mr Goodenough, who becomes executive chairman after the retirement of chairman Sir Timothy Kitson next month, appealed to the Government to reverse last year's increase in gaming duty and allow the casino industry to advertise.

The final dividend was 5.25p (6.925p).

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