Rank blames National Lottery for cutbacks

NIGEL COPE

The damaging impact of the National Lottery on other areas of leisure spending was underlined yesterday when Rank Organisation announced a fall in bingo admissions and the closure of 14 clubs with the loss of 375 jobs.

Rank said admissions were down by 3 per cent in the eight months to June but had fallen by as much as 15 per cent in smaller clubs. Consequently 10 per cent of the group's outlets were closed in July and August.

Rank blamed the closures on the launch of the "instants" scratch card game in March. Although weekly sales of instants had fallen from a peak of pounds 42m a week in May to pounds 23m last week, Rank's recreation director, John Garrett, said the impact was still considerable.

Mr Garrett blamed the Government for failing to act faster in the de- regulation of the gaming industry. "The Government preaches free competition but it doesn't act that way," he said. He warned of more job losses if the de-regulation process was not speeded up.

Rank's announcement follows 320 redundancies at Littlewoods' pools business, which is due to close its Cardiff office in November. Last month Ladbroke cut 200 job at its racing division. However, the August distributive trades survey yesterday said the lottery had had a neutral effect on retail sales.

Rank also said it had made a formal complaint to Oflot, the lottery regulator, claiming the odds on the scratch card games were worse than portrayed and were "an outrageous con". However, Oflot had said there was no case to answer. Rank said it was still considering launching its own charity lottery.

Mr Garrett was speaking as Rank announced pre-tax profits up from pounds 32m to pounds 450m in the eight months to July, though the figures were inflated by profits of pounds 286m from the sale of part of its Rank Xerox stake.

The recreation division saw profits fall from pounds 33m to pounds 24m, partly due to a run of bad luck at its Claremont Casino in London. The film and television division did better though UK admissions at Odeon cinemas were down by 11 per cent due to the lack of popular films during the period.

The holidays division, which includes Butlins, saw patchy demand in the early summer but improved trading in the school holidays. Group sales from continuing operations improved by 4 per cent to pounds 1.3bn. The interim dividend was lifted 12 per cent to 4.75p.

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