Eyes down in battle to acquire UK bingo halls

Michael Bow
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THE FORMER owner of high street stalwarts Comet and MFI is weighing a bid for up to 137 UK bingo halls from Gala Coral, underscoring a sudden turnaround in fortunes for the unloved bingo sector.

Henry Jackson, the US investor who heads London-based firm OpCapita, has registered his interest in snapping up Gala Bingo from its parent Gala Coral, according to Sky News.

Gala Coral, which also owns high street betting shop Coral, is mulling plans for an initial public offering later this year and is keen to jettison its bingo division before a float.

Lazard is understood to have been appointed to handle the sale, which could net the business up to £250m.

OpCapita is just one of a handful of investment firms looking to take control of the division, which employs nearly 5,000 people across the UK.

The uptick in interest from investors highlights the growing impact of George Osborne’s tax reforms on the sector in boosting investor sentiment.

Osborne announced plans in his Budget to halve bingo duty from 20 per cent to 10 per cent, helping turn more profits over to bingo operators like Gala Bingo. Gala Coral recently said its retail division, which houses the bingo assets, had showed a “significant improvement” in admissions in the four months to the end of January and better cost management, leading to an increasing earnings.