Stanley Leisure's profits double

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The casino operator Stanley Leisure shrugged off the impact of last July's bombings on its flagship London casinos yesterday to post a doubling in annual profits, though big winners knocked its London takings below budget in the past three months.

The company also announced the retirement of its chairman, Leonard Steinberg, who built the group from a single betting shop in Belfast 50 years ago into Britain's largest casino operator, with 41 provincial casinos and four in London.

The group, which is in merger talks with London Clubs, said pre-tax profits rose to £31.9m in the year to 30 April from £16.2m the previous year. Turnover was up 2 per cent at £224.8m.

The removal of the 24-hour rule last October, enabling people to walk into casinos and play straight away, has driven a 17 per cent increase in attendances and brought in more women and people under 40. But the average win per admission has fallen 7 per cent to £39 as the new clientele tends to go for easier games such as slot machines and blackjack rather than table games.

Bob Wiper, the chief executive, admitted that big winners at the Crockfords and The Colony casinos in London, which attract high-rollers from the Middle East and Russia, knocked takings there but insisted the house would soon be up again.

Stanley's international betting division suffered from doing most of its World Cup business in Italy which unexpectedly won the football tournament.

Seventeen new casino licences are currently up for grabs under the Gambling Act, including one Las Vegas-style super-casino. Stanley has formed a joint venture with its major shareholder, the Malaysian gaming group Genting, to bid for all 17.