The City Diary: No more bets...
Sunday 09 January 2011
How are the chips falling in the world of high stakes casinos?
Aspinalls, the eponymous Mayfair joint founded by the late conservationist and tycoon John, is being hawked around potential buyers with a reported asking price of £100m, while there have been changes at the Ritz Casino, where the executive chairman, Andrew Love, is running the show following the abrupt departure of the former chief executive, Tim Cullimore, last year.
Now I learn that rival Les Ambassadeurs has lost three of its four directors after its chief executive and former London Clubs International chairman, Alan Goodenough, along with James Newell and Matthew King, departed quietly just before Christmas. Sadly, nobody from Les Ambassadeurs wants to explain the changes, but my man on the casino floor elaborates: "That sector is struggling. They have tried to sell Les A, Aspinalls is up for sale and the Ritz is waving the white flag."
Intelligent moves at Les A
Les A has a fascinating history with the property that houses the club – 5 Hamilton Place, Mayfair – standing on the site of one of Henry VIII's old hunting lodges. The building has been owned by the Earl of Buckinghamshire, the Marquess Conyngham, banker and thoroughbred horse breeder Leopold de Rothschild and, from 1950, businessman John Mills. Mills had opened Les Ambassadeurs Club in 1941 at Hanover Square, a venue he used during the Second World War – when he was rumoured to be an intelligence agent – as a testing ground to see who could hold their liquor and who spoke too freely.
Dragon's eye view
Here's Deborah Meaden, a judge on the BBC's business talent show Dragons' Den, talking about her politics to New Statesman last week. "I'm a floating voter. I voted Tony Blair in and I voted him out". Really? As I thought everybody knew, Blair was never voted out of office (miraculously). Still, later in the interview Meaden admits to having "a very selective memory".
Frigerio's Madoff exposure
Congratulations to Dario Frigerio, the former chief executive of Pioneer Global Asset Management, who I see has rocked up at Citi as a senior adviser to the bank's transaction services arm. The press release trumpets: "Frigerio brings a wealth of industry knowledge," while Andrew Gelb, Citi's head of securities and fund services gushes: "Dario's experience and deep connections in the industry will be a great asset to Citi's investor services business". I'm sure all that's true, but, surprisingly, the upbeat announcement doesn't mention Pioneer's main claim to fame during Dario's tenure – its massive exposure to Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.
The Donald for president
Rumours continue to swirl around the US that comb-over king Donald Trump, is considering running for president. You've got to hope that he's serious: Trump on the stump will be an absolute hoot. The Donald's views on the Italians and the Chinese are somewhat uncompromising (so foreign policy should be interesting), while I particularly look forward to him courting female votes, where you'll recall he's shown a sure touch. In 2009 – after the death of Jett Travolta, the son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Trump paid tribute by blogging how he tried to bed the mother of the dead boy. "My track record has always been outstanding, but Kelly wouldn't give me the time of day," he movingly recalled. Can the Donald really be the Republicans' Trump card?
Goldman faces up to its critics
Goldman Sachs's $450m investment in Facebook may be even braver that it first seems. A glance at the social networking website unveils pages entitled: "Goldman Sachs Can Suck It", "I hate Goldman Sachs" and "Wipe Goldman Sachs off the face of the earth". Fortunately, sensitive Goldman staff are spared such heckling. The investment bank blocks employees from accessing the website.
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