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Rank bets on a strong summer after a busy Christmas comes too late to prevent £100 million first half loss

High rollers returned to Rank Group’s London casinos around Christmas, but a busy festive season was not enough to prevent a £100 million loss for the first half.

The FTSE 250 company’s chief executive, John O’Reilly, conceded that the recovery from the severe impact of the pandemic had been slower than anticipated and that the overall trading environment in the months ahead looked “challenging”.

But he told The Standard that “London was super busy over Christmas and the New Year”, with “Middle Eastern customers back in numbers and Far Eastern customers starting to travel again.”

He added: “I’d rather there weren’t train strikes and I’d rather there wasn’t disruption at airports, but London is coming back.” There were also signs that the better trading conditions were lasting. O’Reilly said 2,000 people attended a poker tournament at Rank’s famous Vic club on the Edgeware Road last Friday.

The operator of the capital’s Grosvenor venues reported a group operating loss of £101 million for the six months to December 31, down from a profit of £102.4 million in the same period a year earlier. It came in part due to sharply rising cots, not least soaring energy bills. The company expects an annual energy bill of around £31 million this year, up from a typical £13 million before the surge in prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

O’Reilly was hopeful that the worst of the impact of the pandemic is now behind the capital. “I think we’re going to have a super 2023, London is back rocking and rolling. We’re going to do a roaring trade in the summer, I’m sure.”

Rank is investing in its London venues, renaming the old Golden Horsehoe as The Bayswater Casino, and completing a £4 million refurbishment of its Gloucester Road Casino.

Digital net gaming revenue rose 9% to £100.8 million, with all the company’s sites now operating on its own technology platforms.

Rank also runs Mecca Bingo chain, where older customers have not returned in the kind of numbers seen before Covid, in a recovery that the company calls “slow”. Net gaming revenue for the period was down by a fifth from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, although up 4% year-on-year, with younger customers coming into the chain. Eight Mecca venues will close in the second half of the current financial year.

Shares in the company slipped 0.5p to 91p.