With the news this week that the biggest bingo hall operator in the UK, Gala Coral Group, has hired bankers Lazard to find a buyer for its 135 clubs, most likely for property redevelopment, it may be inferred that the traditional bingo hall is a dying breed. The move is considered to be motivated by an upcoming flotation of the company’s remaining betting and gaming business, with the struggling bingo clubs looked at as a drag on the company’s overall performance and a possible cash generator.
The sale of the bingo club business would be expected to fetch £250 million adding a healthy sheen to the company’s cash reserves which would be expected to be of significant benefit to the company’s achievable IPO price in the event of the expected flotation. Although the best performing venues may be taken on by a buyer planning to continue to run them as bingo clubs it is expected that the majority of the chain will go to a buyer interested in the properties rather than the bingo business they host. Bingo clubs are often old converted cinemas and occupy prime town centre real estate perfect for property redevelopment.
The company also warned that it was likely to close up to 100 of its 1800 betting shops around the UK, mirroring moves also announced by competitors such as Ladbrokes and William Hill. It is notable that the company specifically stated that any sale would not include its online bingo business. The rise of online gambling and gaming and the price of real estate and cost of running physical shops looks like traditional land-based venues such as bingo halls and betting shops may become a thing of the past within the next decade or two.
Bingo halls have been gradually closing around the UK for some time now, suggesting that the game is losing popularity and older generations of players are not being replaced. However, statistics from the online bingo industry contradict that with revenues having grown by around 50% for each of the past 3 years. A recent report on the industry also suggests that the typical profile of the modern bingo player is also different to what might be expected. While players are predominantly female, 20% of online bingo players are male, a much higher percentage than would have generally been found in traditional bingo halls. And perhaps even more surprisingly the average age of online bingo players is a mere 38, exploding the myth of bingo as a game played by old ladies. So it would seems bingo is as popular as ever. It is just moving online and shaking up its demographic.