altIt has recently been reported that Rank Group, who own Mecca Bingo, is having to consider selling some of their land-based casinos in order to get approval from the Competition Commission for their planned takeover of Gala Casinos. At the moment, the commission has made a provisional ruling, stating that the planned merger could cause serious damage to competition in six areas of the United Kingdom. Because of this ruling, Rank may well have to sell, or be restricted from buying, any casinos in these areas if they want approval for their merger.

Back in May 2012, the Mecca Bingo parent company announced its plans to take over 23 Gala Casinos, and apply for licences to operate a further three. However, the Office of Fair Trading referred the takeover in August 2012 to the Competition Commission due to the OFT’s concerns that a merger would “substantially reduce competition in the casino sector.” In September, a spokesperson for the Rank Group said that they were continuing to discuss a tie-up with Gala.

The Commission have concerns that if Gala and Rank (who are two of the three largest UK casino operators) were to merge, only two large operators would be left standing – Genting and Rank. They stated that there are five areas in the UK where competition could be adversely affected by the takeover - Bristol, Cardiff, Aberdeen, Stockton-on-Tees, and Liverpool/New Brighton. The sixth area for concern is Edinburgh, where the Mecca Bingo owners already have a licence to open another land-based casino.

The deputy chairman of the Competition Commission, and chairman of the Gala/Rank Enquiry Group, Professor Martin Cave, stated that the main concern is with two of the largest UK operators merging, as this could leave several areas with greatly reduced competition, where players could lose out through having less choice. He said that the Inquiry Group and the CC will be looking at finding an effective way to maintain a healthy level of competition in these areas, and whether this can be accomplished in a way which will allow a modified deal to be approved.

If we have any local bingo hall or casino lovers among our readers, what are your feelings on this matter? If your favourite club were to be taken over by a big national chain, would you continue to play there or not, and would you feel as though your choices were being adversely limited?

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