Online boost for Mecca Bingo group

The owner of Mecca Bingo has shrugged off a fall in the number of visitors to its halls as a surge in online players helped it toast a 9% rise in profits.

Rank Group said visits to its 97 bingo clubs fell 1.7% in the year to June 30. But the group's online arm enjoyed a 25% rise in underlying profits, with the popularity of meccabingo.com helping drive a 24% increase in bingo and games revenues.

Rank also benefited from a robust performance at its Grosvenor casinos division after refurbishing outlets to its G Casino format attracted a younger crowd, with group-wide profits lifting to £61.5 million over the year.

Mecca Bingo has seen visitor numbers hit amid the economic gloom in recent months despite attempts to attract more customers, such as the launch of its "after dark" sessions aimed at under-35s. But revenues at the division were slightly higher after it successfully encouraged visitors to spend more on its revamped food and drink offer.

Sales were also buoyed by the roll-out of its Mecca Max electronic handheld tablet computers, which monitor tickets to make sure customers never miss a number.

Rank's Grosvenor Casinos division grew sales and profits for the fourth year in a row, with revenues up 4% and underlying profits 11% ahead. Grosvenor operates 35 outlets and is set to become the UK's largest casino operator when it completes a £205 million deal to buy Gala Coral's 23 casinos next month.

The 19 outlets converted to the G casino format saw average spend per visit of £31.35, compared with £30.52 at its traditional casinos. And Grosvenor Casinos delivered a near-50% hike in website revenues, helped by being promoted in its venues.

The popularity of Mecca and Grosvenor online helped the group's digital arm, which also includes Blue Square, enjoy a 21% hike in revenues, despite falling sports betting stakes. Rank was also pleased with recent trading after like-for-like revenues across the group rose 4% since the beginning of July.

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."

Shares were up 2% after Rank hiked its final dividend by 35% and profits came in slightly higher than City expectations.