Steinberg steps back at Stanley Leisure

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The Independent Online

Stanley Leisure, the betting and gaming group that issued a profit warning in April, yesterday admitted that a winning streak from its high-rolling visitors would dent profits at its London casinos as its founder opted to take his first non-executive role in almost 50 years.

The group said the outlook for its provincial casinos had improved after efforts to revamp the estate ahead of impending deregulation disrupted last year's trading. It warned that profits from the 37 sites would be down on last year in the first quarter. The win margin in its London casinos has been affected by some losses to big players, it said.

Bob Wiper, the chief executive, said Leonard Steinberg's decision to step back from executive to non-executive chairman was "good succession planning". Mr Steinberg, 66, has run the business since picking up the reins of the family betting shop in Northern Ireland from his father in the Fifties.

Analysts said Mr Steinberg's move would raise questions over his 20 per cent stake in Stanley.

"Leonard is a stalwart supporter of the business, always has been and ... always will be," Mr Wiper insisted.

Stanley, which owns more than 600 betting shops, said trading had recovered at its betting division since the worst Cheltenham Festival for bookmakers for 20 years prompted its profit warning. Pre-tax profits at its betting arm in the year to 27 April fell 5 per cent to £20.3m, rescued only by better trading overseas.

The group reported pre-tax profits of £39.5m against £35.8m a year earlier. Sales rose 35 per cent to break the £1bn barrier, boosted by the acquisition of Tower Casinos in 2002.

Mr Wiper said the overdue renovation programme for the provincial casinos would come into "full fruition" once the proposed deregulation measures had become law.