Many gaming industry observers in the UK say the land based bingo industry is in trouble. Player numbers are falling at bingo halls but at online bingo sites the numbers have increased. Many bingo operators have spent lots of money to make their bingo halls more attractive to young nonsmoking players. Rank Group, which operates Mecca bingo halls in the UK has introduced the company’s first electronics only bingo hall. Rank, which also owns Grosvenor casinos, is introducing the new electronic bingo hall in Reading. .
Players use portable tablet devices to play which are very similar to iPads and some other mobile devices. Rank’s chairman says that playing on the tablet devices requires less concentration and all9ows players to eat and drink while playing. The devices daub the called numbers automatically and players can play as many cards as they want. At most online bingo sites players can use the auto daub option that marks the cards and keeps track of any wins allowing the player to multitask while playing. Although Rank believes that the traditional game, with distinctive calls such as Two Fat Ladies, Gandhi’s Breakfast and others will always exist Rank Chairman Ian Burke believes that electronic bingo will attract a new generation of bingo players.
During the first half of Rank’s fiscal year Mecca bingo customer numbers in the UK grew 4% to 1.1 million. Most of the new growth is in Rank’s online bingo sector. Revenues from Mecca’s online bingo operations grew 11% to £30.4 million during the six months prior to December 31st. Revenues at Rank’s bingo halls dipped 1% to £115.7 million during the same period. Rank believes that it is possible to capitalize on the popularity of online bingo by offering digital gaming at its land based venues. Burke told reporters “The electronic gaming has definitely got an appeal to the under-35s.”
Rank also believes that digital gaming at bingo halls will lure “more even gender mix.” Players can tap on the screens when their numbers are called and there is a function that allows players to catch up if they have missed a few calls. Rank believes that the new tablets will attract male players in their 20′s. Burke stated “Electronic gaming offers all sorts of additional benefits to players. I wouldn’t describe our handheld devices as an iPad, but it’s the same principle. Like many people, three years ago I would never have imagined iPads being as popular or as successful as they are. A lot of people love the tactile aspect of playing bingo with paper and pen and I imagine that will be around for a long, long time to come. But playing bingo electronically is much more akin to playing it on the internet except it’s done in a social and community setting.”
Rank is controlled by Malaysia’s Guoco Group which recently made a deal worth £179 million with Gala Coral Group to purchase 19 casinos which would make Rank the largest gaming operator in the UK.