Rank goes social despite regulation concerns

Mecca Bingo owner Rank Group is to launch a number of social games on Facebook in the next 12 months, despite being “concerned about the absence of regulation in this sector”, it said this morning.

The UK’s fifth largest betting and gaming operator said it believed games on social networks, in the interest of fairness and safety, should be regulated and taxed on the same basis as “all commercial gambling opportunities offered to UK consumers.” Rank’s view mirrors those recently expressed by William Hill CEO Ralph Topping, although the boss of the UK’s largest bookmaker has said his company would not launch any social games until they were subject to the same level of regulation as real-money products in the UK.

Rank revealed its new social strategy as it posted a 3.4% year-on-year rise in full-year revenue to £600.5m and a 9% uplift in pre-tax profit to £61.5m. This was driven by a strong performance from Meccabingo.com and its bricks ‘n’ mortar Grosvenor Casinos division in the 12 months to 30 June 2012.

Mecca’s online and mobile revenues were up an impressive 24.6% year-on-year to £56.2m in the 2011/12 period, which Rank attributed to improved cross-channel marketing, product upgrades, the strength of the Mecca brand and several high-profile advertising campaigns. The percentage of Mecca customers who interacted with the brand across both online and offline channels was 5.5%, up from 5.2% in 2010/11.

Mecca’s contribution to the dominant bingo and games online segment, which grew 24.1% to £59.7m, helped Rank Interactive to a 20.8% rise in revenue to £77.7m, and a 26.5% rise in operating profit to £10.5m.

Online casino also improved in the period, up 49.1% in revenue to £8.5m, which the company said reflected greater support and promotion in the Grosvenor offline venues.

These performances offset declines in both online sports betting and poker. Revenue from Rank’s Blue Square sports betting brand dipped 6.7% to £8.4m, despite the period including most of the Euro 2012 football tournament. The company blamed a “drop in stakes”. Poker was down 26.7% to £1.1m “because of increasing competition”.

Chairman Ian Burke said: “”While the current economic conditions remain challenging we have continued to increase the popularity of our brands and we look forward to the future with optimism.”

In addition to social games, Rank said Spanish online and offline brand enracha would be a dominant focus for the company’s “multi-channel” strategy in 2012/13. The company is offering roulette and poker and Spanish games on its enracha.es website, following the award of its licences in June, and said it expected to offer bingo from the start of 2013.

Rank said it had decided to apply for an online casino licence in Belgium in partnership with Unibet, rather than in its own right, due to “the complexity and cost of regulation in Belgium”. Rank operates two of the nine land-based casinos in a country which has restricted online permits to licensed land-based gaming and betting entities in the EU Member State.

Casino Choice journalist

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