Back in August, Rank Group – owners of Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca Bingo – made a £3.4 billion bid for William Hill which was ultimately abandoned. But now, Rank have changed tactics and unveiled plans for their new venture – Luda Bingo, a more convenient way to play traditional bingo.
Rank Group’s Chief Executive, Henry Birch, plans for Luda Bingo to be bingo’s answer to convenience supermarkets. “Much like Sainsbury’s and Tesco created Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Metro we’ve actually observed that people increasingly want to go out more in city centres. Just like people want convenience shopping there is an element of people wanting convenience gaming.”
Luda bingo halls will differ from Mecca’s current sites in one key way – they’ll be in retail areas and high streets instead of being slightly out-of-town. Rank Group hopes that introducing bingo to the retail-and-coffee-shop-dominated high streets will give a much-needed push to the declining traditional bingo scene, which has lost players to the growing popularity of online bingo.
However, the idea is not without its criticism. In August, Rank submitted proposals for one of their first Luda bingo halls, to be opened in Walsall. Local councillors Aftab Nawaz and Adrian Andrew opposed the plans, with Nawaz suggesting that it would ‘ruin the town centre’, because “I don’t think this would be attractive to shoppers and would instead drive them away. We are trying to regenerate the town centre but we are seeing more and more of these types of establishments.” Andrew supported this point: “We have been trying for a number of years to create leisure areas in the town, which is what this is, but not in retail areas.”
The centre in Walsall is only one of three proposed Luda bingo halls to be opened in the first half of 2017. Rank would spend £12 million on the lease for the Walsall site, and claims that the venue could create 25 new jobs. They’re hoping to modernise traditional bingo by staying away from the aesthetic of halls from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and plan to include cafés and electric lounges (with jackpot machines!) in their new venues.
So, will Rank Group’s Luda Bingo manage to entice players away from online networks and back to traditional bingo halls? Only time will tell if this is truly the way to revive interest in the game, or if Rank are fighting a losing battle against the inevitable decline of traditional bingo’s popularity.