Rank sells Lord Lucan's former haunt for £31m

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The Independent Online

Rank has sold its exclusive West End casino, the Clermont Club, where Lord Lucan played bridge, to a Malaysian company for £31m.

The leisure group said yesterday that it had agreed to sell the casino in Berkeley Square to BIL International, a Singapore-listed investment firm owned by the Malaysian billionaire Quek Leng Chan.

The Clermont Club, which attracts high-rollers, is known as the former haunt of Lord Lucan, who vanished in 1974 after his children's nanny was found beaten to death in the basement of his London home.

The Georgian building that houses the club has changed little since it was built in the 1740s by Lady Isabella Finch, Lady of the Bedchamber to Princess Amelia, a spinster aunt of King George III. It later served as the home of the Regency dandy Beau Brummell, and takes its name from another owner, Lord Clermont. It opened as a casino in 1962.

Rank is breaking itself up and recently sold much of its Deluxe Media and Film arms, while also putting up for sale its successful Hard Rock Cafe chain. It wants to turn itself into a pure gaming operator and to focus on running its Grosvenor casinos and Mecca bingo clubs.

The clean-up of the business is being led by Rank's new chief executive, Ian Burke, who said: "The sale of the Clermont Club is in line with our strategy of focusing on the mainstream gaming market, where we believe there is most to gain from changes to UK gambling regulations."

Analysts welcomed the deal as it removes an asset with a volatile earnings stream - profits have recently been lower than £1m a year - and brings in some cash for the group. A spokesman for Rank said the Clermont Club had "nothing in common with the rest of the 35-strong casino estate which is about mainstream gaming". It was acquired as part of the purchase of Mecca in 1990.

Arun Amarsi, the chief executive of BIL, said he had made a number of applications to run casinos in London and other UK cities, and the purchase of the Clermont Club would help his firm establish itself as a casino operator in the UK.