It's been four whole days since some bingo clubs reopened their doors again following a three-month lockdown.
The Rank Group PLC (LON: RNK) which owns the Mecca Bingo chain, opened the doors of 35 of its 77 UK bingo clubs on July 4th. Having originally announced 36 Mecca Bingo clubs to reopen, its Leicester venue was forced to postpone reopening as the coronavirus situation in the city worsened.
With 30 more clubs enjoying a staggered reopening from mid-July, the Rank Group announced that the remaining 12 venues would remain closed until October while the company assessed their ongoing viability. Does this mean they will close? Let's have a look at the whole picture.
The Rank Group (LON: RNK) Financial Situation
The Mecca Bingo chain which used to be called Top Rank Bingo and had 112 clubs open in 2007 is the second largest chain of retail bingo venues in the UK, behind Buzz Bingo who operate 117 bingo clubs around the country.
As the 35 Mecca Bingo clubs reopened his weekend the Rank Group Plc released a business update. In it, the casino and bingo operator highlighted the impact that the coronavirus has had upon its profits. Absorbing the cost of COVID, Rank said its group’s underlying profits would come in at the lower of its £48-58 million guidance for the year ending June 30, 2020. This means the company's revenues have fallen to just about 60% of the pre-corona levels.
In a bid to try and mitigate the financial impact of the coronavirus, the Rank Group furloughed around 7,000 of its 7,600 UK staff. The company also cut the wages of its directors by 20%. Additionally, the UK-based company announced that the board were not going to recommend paying a dividend.
As well as the cost-saving measures put in place, a saving grace for gambling operator has been the growth of its digital revenues. Growing by 17% in the previous quarter, the digital side of Rank's gaming operations – online bingo and online casino – are expected to show even more growth during lockdown. As BingoDaily covered, there was an increase in online betting activity in the online slots, casino, poker and bingo areas as Sports betting activity completely ceased with no sporting events to bet on. Taking this into consideration, the Rank Group should be financially secure enough to weather the COVID-19 storm.
Rank has maintained £ 140 million in cash and available facilities as at the 1st of July, with the gambling giant insisting that it would be able to satisfy its demands for a 2020 Bank Agreement.
The company now aims to reduce its monthly net cash flow from £ 10 million to £ 7 million as venues reopen and based on further reopenings of venues in Scotland and Wales.
John O’Reilly, Rank chief executive, said: “I am pleased that we will be able to start welcoming our loyal Mecca customers back into their clubs on Saturday and we are all looking forward to doing what we do best. As ever, the health, safety and wellbeing of all our customers and colleagues remains front and centre of everything that we do, and we have created safe environments for our customers to come and enjoy themselves once again.
“Our Grosvenor venues are also ready to safely open and we are working hard to ensure we receive the support of the Government to reopen our casinos soon. Our colleagues are very keen to get back to work to pick up the progress we had been making prior to lockdown.”
COVID Restrictions and Problems Impacting Bingo Halls
As we saw with the closure of the Empire Bingo Hall in Blackpool at the end of last month, the Government social distancing restrictions are going to put a lot of strain on many halls, in particular, the older venues like the Empire, where due to its age, it was just not feasible to open with such a limited and restricted capacity.
Many bingo clubs are opening to 30 – 40% capacity which means reduced income. Add in lost revenues on reduced menus, restricted opening hours to limited capacity and it means the earning capacity for many halls will not be enough to sustain the cost of keeping the halls open.
Following the Trend?
Despite bingo enjoying somewhat of a revival over the last decade, there has also been a trend of bingo halls closing. Many bingo halls are located in prime city or town centre locations, with soaring property prices making conversion into flats an all too familiar story for many a bingo hall.
Bingo hall numbers have fallen steadily and it looks as though the COVID crisis could spark another round of bingo halls closing over the next year.
For the Rank Group PLC Mecca Bingo, the fate of the 12 unknown clubs is unclear. Speculation is mounting as to which clubs will be permanently closed. Mecca has two bingo halls in Dundee – the Playhouse opposite the Overgate Shopping Centre on Nethergate and another site at Eclipse Leisure Park in Douglasfield, one of these looks favourite to be on the list. However, the rest is pure guesswork.
We think that sadly, some closures are inevitable and we should expect to see at least some of the twelve Mecca Bingo clubs shuttered until October, closed for good.
A safe and quick eased lockdown and good numbers through the doors and the bingo clubs may live to fight another day and call another ball.