Half of Scottish bingo halls threatened by smoking ban

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The Independent Online

About half of Scotland's 86 bingo clubs could close after the smoking ban introduced at the end of March hit the industry much harder than expected in the first three months.

Five clubs have closed already, a further three are expected to shut in the next few weeks and between 30 and 40 are at risk of closure in the long run, the Bingo Association said yesterday.

Revenues at all Scottish bingo clubs have fallen as players come in for shorter periods or stop going altogether, with independent operators feeling the greatest pressure. Traditional former cinema clubs are seen as more vulnerable than the modern flat-floor venues run by the big operators, Gala and Rank's Mecca.

This bodes ill for the 700 bingo clubs in England and Wales where smoking will be banned in all public places from sometime next year.

Bingo clubs are worse affected than pubs, which have put in awnings and beer gardens to accommodate smokers (and are coping well with the Scottish ban so far), because players are not allowed to use electronic terminals outside the venue.

The trade body highlighted the loss of jobs and social facilities that will be felt severely in many local communities. The bingo industry employs some 21,000 people in the UK, including 3,500 in Scotland. Sir Peter Fry, the association's chairman, said: "The severity and speed of impact that the industry is currently experiencing in Scotland is alarming and sounding loud warning bells for the industry in England and Wales."

He said changing venues into a welcoming smoke-free environment was going to take some time and a considerable amount of investment, which would be almost impossible to achieve for many smaller clubs and would also affect the larger bingo chains.

Of the five club closures, two were run by Carlton Bingo, Scotland's biggest independent operator, while the other two belonged to KE Entertainment. The fifth club, a Gala venue in Paisley, was closed for competition reasons, a Gala spokesman said.

Peter Perrins, the managing director of Carlton, said: "Short of applying for an outdoor gaming licence, if such a thing were available, it's impossible to secure efficient play when half your players are standing outside the door."