Can UK Bingo Halls Survive ?

In recent years UK bingo halls have experienced a significant decline in player numbers. Simon Wykes, Gala Bingo’s managing director, said that the future does not look promising for retail bingo outlets. Wykes made the statement after Gala announced that it was selling the company’s bingo operations. Gala’s largest competitor is the Rank Group which operates Mecca bingo halls throughout the UK. Last week’s management statement from Rank revealed a 7% decline for Rank. The company blamed the weather for the decline. Rank also announced it was dumping the company’s ‘full house’ program. Rank remodeled several bingo halls in hopes of attracting younger more affluent players.

The decline of UK bingo halls has been going on for years. The rise of online bingo has reduced player numbers at brick and mortar bingo halls. The smoking ban in 20-0-7 dealt a crippling blow to the industry along with its dependence on low to moderate income players. Nick Batram, an analyst at Peel Hunt, told the Financial Times “What is difficult to get a feel for is exactly how much the weather and the squeeze on lower incomes is to blame and how much might be structural.” One of the prospective buyers of Gala’s 138 bingo halls is Luke Johnson of Risk Capital Partners. Johnson told the Financial Times that he thought bingo still has a future. Johnson said “It is still seen as one of the most social forms of betting and millions still go every week. It’s not going to disappear.”

Gala and Rank have had success in the online bingo sector. Mecca and Gala have managed to get on the shortlist for Bingo Operator of the Year at November’s eGR Operator Awards. Rank’s online operations declined by 3% compared to 7% for the company’s land based operations. The company showed an increase in digital spend per visit and Rank believes that player retention could be the key for Mecca’s online bingo operations. Gala’s active online user numbers have increased 4% but part of that figure may be because of the company’s online casino operations. Gala online bingo operations showed a 23% increased in the amount players wagered. Most experts agree that mobile and social gaming will be the key to the success of the online bingo sector. Johnson said that bingo is one of the most social forms of gambling and enabling players to interact with each other will ensure that the social aspects of bingo remain.

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