Rank's luck runs out as punters stay away

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The Independent Online

Lady luck did not favour Rank, the gaming operator, yesterday as it warned that punters, especially in the London area, continued to stay away from its casinos.

Lady luck did not favour Rank, the gaming operator, yesterday as it warned that punters, especially in the London area, continued to stay away from its casinos.

Rank's shares fell 6 per cent to 285.25p after it said business at its three middle market casinos in the capital was lower in the second half of the year than in the same period last year.

The company, which also operates the US-style Hard Rock Café chain, said sales of food and drink were up slightly. But the lucrative merchandising arm was hit by a fall in tourists, caused by the war against Iraq and the outbreak of Sars.

Rank said operating profits were flat in the 21 weeks to 22 November and that results for the full year would be "broadly in line with expectations".

Once a sprawling leisure business, Rank has sold such cultural institutions as Odeon cinemas, Pinewood film studios and Butlins holiday camps to focus on gambling, restaurants and film and video services.

The company is expected to be a major beneficiary of a Bill which will deregulate the gaming industry, making operators such as Rank more free to have late licences, serve drinks and offer live entertainment to customers.

Rank said its Mecca bingo halls had produced "solid results". Deluxe, its film and video arm, had a solid 21-week period, with new releases such as Kill Bill and Elf helping to offset the cost of shifting the focus in duplication to DVDs from video cassettes.

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