Plenty of interest in Rank group


RIP Brian

Malaysian giant Genting buys 10 percent of Brit gambling group

With the UK gambling industry still buzzing over reports that Rank plc had rejected a deal proposed by American gambling behemoth Harrah's Entertainment, The Times revealed over the weekend that the massive Malaysian gambling corporate Genting had secretly acquired a 10 percent stake in Rank.

Genting, which has extensive gambling businesses across Asia and in the UK, is understood to have taken the stake as a preemptive move against any rival bid for Rank.

Just last week (see previous InfoPowa report) it emerged that Rank had rebuffed an approach from Harrahs Entertainment, which wanted to trade part of its UK business, London Clubs International, for a 28 percent stake in Rank. And other gambling groups are showing signs of interest, says The Times, naming Ladbrokes as a potential bidder, as is Aspers, a joint venture between Damian Aspinall and Australian gambling tycoon James Packer.

Genting already has extensive UK interests. Last year it bought Stanley Leisure for GBP 639 million, making it the largest casino operator. It had been a long-standing investor in London Clubs International before the Harrahs takeover. The most recent quarterly accounts of Genting International revealed it had decided to write down the value of the Stanley business by GBP 152 million.

A combination of anti-smoking laws, taxation and uncertainty on the UK government's next move has had a depressing effect on the gambling and leisure business in Britain this year, as prime minister Gordon Brown has apparently backed away from a plan to deregulate the sector and allow the construction of new, larger casinos.

Rank shares have fallen by more than half in the last year, and underperformed the FTSE All-Share index by 64 percent in the same period.

But last week's events provided a resurgence of interest from investors, and the stock was among the best-performing on the London stock market, closing up 25 percent.

The appeal of the Rank shares lies in the relatively large share the group holds of the limited number of UK casino licences. There are 143 licences in the UK, of which Rank holds 45, though 12 of these are not presently in use.

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