Rank slumps to loss and warns trading will not fully recover until mid-2022

Mecca Bingo and casino owner Rank Group has warned trading at its venues is not likely to recover until the middle of next year as the pandemic sent it swinging to a half-year loss.

The group slumped to a £59.4 million pre-tax loss for the six months to December 31 against profits of £48.2 million a year ago as its venues were forced to close and hampered by curfews and tight restrictions when they were allowed to open.

Rank, which also owns the Grosvenor’s casinos chain and Enracha business in Spain, saw underlying net gaming revenues tumble 58% to £156.9 million, with its venues were closed for 45% of the first half.

It hopes the business will be reopened by the summer, but cautioned that it does not expect revenues at its venues to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels until the end of its 2021-22 financial year next June.

John O’Reilly, chief executive of The Rank Group, said: “There is no doubt that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been far beyond anything we or any other leisure operator could have imagined or planned for.

“The ever-changing restrictions coupled with curfews, which in particular have a seismic impact on our Grosvenor venues, have resulted in an exceptionally challenging first half for the group.”

Like-for-like net gaming revenues at its venues, which account for more than three quarters of group turnover, crashed 70% to £90.9 million.

It saw a 10% rise in digital gaming customers as they switched online, but digital gaming revenues only edged 1% higher to £66 million as it clamped down on affordability restrictions for higher staking customers.

Mr O’Reilly added: “The recent vaccine approvals and subsequent rollout is welcome news and we are very much looking forward to being permitted to fully reopen our venues and once again being able to provide exciting, entertaining and safe gambling environments for our customers.

“Nevertheless, our venues remain closed and they are likely to remain so for much of the third quarter and quite possibly into the fourth quarter.”

Rank is assuming all its UK venues will remain closed until at least Easter and only reopen on a phased basis after that – with half in April, rising to 75% in May and all from July.

Shares in the group fell 4% after its results.

But Andrew Wilkinson, an analyst at Liberum, said the results showed a “promising performance across its growing digital business to help offset its venues”.

Progress with new technology platforms will also “prove to be a real catalyst for delivering digital developments and providing a platform for growth in the UK and internationally”, he said.