Esther Maher plays bingo as much as 5 times a week, but she will probably have to scale down her bingo trips when England prohibits smoking in public areas on July 2007. According to the 57 year-old housewife, people cannot stop smoking just like that. Maher is currently smoking near the slot machines located at Beacon Bingo, which is owned and managed by the Riva Gaming Group Ltd, located north of London. The bingo hall, which was once the social area for retirees playing bingo with their paper cards and ink dabbers, is modernizing their equipment with the latest technology up-to-date to keep their customers who smoke and protect the bingo industry, which is currently valued at 1.8 billion UK pounds or an equivalent of $3.5 billion.
Handheld gaming devices may let the smokers take their bingo games outside during their smoking breaks. According to Maidenhead, a British based Rank Group Plc., almost all of the customers at the bingo hall smoke double the rate of the overall British population. The sales at their Mecca online bingo halls in Scotland have slid down about 15% since last March, when smoking was prohibited in public places in Scotland. In 2005, Mecca's revenue was around 264 million UK pounds including 64.5 million UK pounds from the slot machines and about 24.5 million UK pounds from food and beverages.
According to the Bingo Association in the area, about 5 bingo halls in Scotland have already closed down. In a conference call held on December 7, 2006, Rank CEO, Ian Burke said that unless some factors change, they are expecting a similar effect in England and Wales by the time the smoking ban is enforced. Wales will begin applying the smoking ban by April 2, 2007. CEO Burke said that the Mecca Bingo Halls will be using a portable device inside their bingo hall and build shelters outside their establishments so that their customers who smoke can still continue to do so outside.
The Bingo Halls that would institute these changes would have to apply for a license. Another Bingo establishment, Riva Gaming, formerly known as Mayfair Gaming Limited, is also testing their machines and is instituting more breaks during their bingo games so that their customers can have more time to play the slot machines and go outside to smoke during the break.
Warwick Bartlett, the leading partner at Global Betting and Gaming Consultants located in West Bromwich, England said that the bingo industry is in a place at the moment where they are willing to try anything that could possibly work just to mitigate the effects of the smoking ban. Rank's shares have slid down 24% to about 232.75 per pence for this year, compared to the 25% gain for the FTSE 350 Travel and Leisure Index.
Top Ten Holdings Plc., Britain's 3rd largest bingo operator after Rank and Gala Coral, has slid down 31% to 87.50 per pence. St. Albans, an England-based company, has announced that it might take about 2 - 3 years to recover from the loss they have suffered due to the smoking ban. About 8% of the entire British population indulges in Bingo. Even Prince William played the game last October in a Bingo Hall located in Reading near Sandhurst, where he is studying.
The speed and variety of games provided by the fixed electronic terminals spur the creation of very rich revenue resource in Britain. Players have placed about 1.8 billion UK pounds during their 80 million visits to the Bingo Halls in the whole year up to March 2006. To protect their bingo business, Top Ten will be installing hundreds of handheld devices manufactured by the Toronto-based TimePlay Entertainment at Birmingham Hall.
Even if the Portable Bingo Halls convince some smokers to continue playing, they might not mitigate the expected sales decline because much the revenues come from the slot machines, according to Gavin Kelleher, an analyst working for GoodBody Stockbrokers located in Dublin. Kelleher said that they do not know whether the people would go be able to outside of the bingo hall and still be able to gamble at the same time.
Monday, February 05, 2007