There have been hints over the past year that the Gala Coral Group who own the Gala Bingo chain were going to sell off their bingo halls in advance of a stock market flotation. And now it looks like the big sale is about to become a reality.
The sale which comes in at roughly £250 million is being handled by bankers at Lazard who have been hired to find a buyer for the chain. The sale was prompted in a move by the group to offload the less profitable arm of their business to make the stock market flotation a more attractive opportunity for potential investors. The past six months however have seen a rise in profits for the Gala Bingo clubs.
It will be interesting to see what will happen to the Gala Clubs, which all depends on the ‘risk appetite’ of the new buyer. Mecca Bingo owners The Rank Group have been talking recently of opening new clubs, but they will not be using the well established Mecca Bingo brand, but instead will be creating a completely new brand in an attempt to update the appeal of bingo and attract a new generation of players.
It is quite likely that The Rank Group will open pilot clubs to test a change in tone of their bingo venues. In line with the way casinos are now operated, it is likely that the new clubs will be more of an all round night out ‘experience’. This will probably mean more of a focus on regular entertainment, and higher quality food on offer (no complaints there!).
The new Gala owners may look to similarly update the venues, or they may simply carry on with business as usual, and hope the bingo taxation reduction will be enough to make the chain more profitable than it has been over the past few years.
What the sale will mean for loyal players at the current Gala Bingo clubs is hard to tell. It may mean no change at all, maybe a simple change of brand, or maybe something bigger. Hopefully it would not mean a split of the businesses for property redevelopment or similar, but that is unlikely on a deal of this size.
Unfortunately, it may well be time for retail bingo to ‘catch up with the times’, and to do so will mean more than universal installation of eBingo terminals (in fact, it could mean the reverse). Let’s hope whoever takes over the chain has a crystal ball, and can take the clubs through few years with an increase instead of a decrease of players. (‘Smoking balconies’ might be an idea!). Original article.