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RankPlc First Half 2014 Report

Disappointing performance as group digests its acquisition of 19 Gala land casinos in the UK.
The Rank Group plc has posted its half-year results for the six months ended 31 December 2013, highlighting a group performance that included:
* Group revenue up 16 percent at GBP 352.4 million
* Group operating profit down 14 percent at GBP 32.7 million
* Group EBITDA down 6 percent at GBP 54.2 million
* Adjusted profit before tax down 23 percent at GBP 27.7 million
* Group customer base of 2.73 million - up from 2.3 million last year
* Customer average spend per visit up at GBP 25.53 (H1-2012: GBP 22.52.
* Offine-online crossover at 4 percent - up from 3.5 percent last year.
* A 26 percent like-for-like dive in operating profit at the group's Grosvenor Casinos venues and a 38 percent fall in operating profit in Mecca, results predicted in Management's previous statement.
* Adjusted profit before tax down 23 percent to GBP 27.7 million (H1 2012/13: GBP 36.1 million) due to weak trading performance, higher costs and interest charges arising on acquisition financing.
* Cost reduction and revenue enhancement actions already in place to improve results in the second half.
* The integration of 19 land casinos acquired from Gala in May 2013. The acquisitions led to a 34 percent increase in Grosvenor Casinos revenue to GBP 194.2 million and an 11 percent increase in operating profit to GBP 28.2 million.
* Mecca's revenue decreased by 2 percent to GBP 143.5 million as customer visits fell during the period.  Operating profit plunged 38 percent to GBP 13.9 million due to lower revenues and higher operating costs.
* Investment of GBP 11.9 million in new product and land casino refurbishments.
* Interim dividend up 8 percent to 1.35p, reflecting the Board's confidence in the future.
* During the six-month period the Group invested GBP 29.7 million of capital.  More than 80 percent of this was deployed in Grosvenor Casinos in new product, rebranding, refurbishments and conversions of the acquired casinos.
* Net debt increased by GBP 31.3 million during the period to GBP 135.1 million principally due to the settlement of certain legacy tax issues, particularly in the VAT case against Her Majesties Revenue and Customs (see previous InfoPowa reports).
Drilling down into the digital operations of Rank, the following is apparent:
* Casino Digital revenue improved during the period by 32 percent to GBP 5.8 million.  During the period Rank launched its new Live Casino offer, which has now become its largest revenue stream.  Operating losses decreased by 50 percent to GBP 900,000.
* Mecca Digital revenue of GBP 29.8 million was down by 2 percent in a very competitive market.  Operating profit dropped by 40 percent to GBP 6.8 million due to lower revenue and higher IT and promotional costs.  However, the number of digital bingo customer numbers has grown driven by increased marketing and customer acquisition activity...but the frequency of visits has declined.
* Mecca mobile revenues continued to grow strongly, up 24 percent in the period. Updated mobile (phone and tablet) apps have been developed and released with a focus on side game improvements. Mobile currently represents 22 percent of Mecca's digital revenues, up from 17 percent in the comparable period.
* Management plans to focus on meeting online customers' needs by redesigning company websites and improving content management systems, games and mobile offerings.
* The group's digital operations are preparing for the imposition of the UK Remote Gaming Duty in December 2014.
* Attention is also being focused on investing in and strengthening technology capabilities, with the goal of creating an IT system capable of supporting multiple brands in multiple channels.  The recently appointed and strengthened management team is set to achieve this by will achieve this by: reducing the number of third party applications, and improving the digital games platform.
Ian Burke, chief executive of The Rank Group said that Rank has experienced a challenging and highly competitive trading environment in the first half, with decreases in like-for-like revenues across both the Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca brands.
The first half has also been adversely impacted by the hot July weather and a lower casino win margin and handle, he said, but sounded a note of optimism that revenue and profit improvement plans are expected to deliver an improved result during the second half of the financial year.
"As previously guided, the first half of the current financial year was challenging with like-for-like brand performances down on the same period last year.  The very challenging bingo market has contributed to a decline in the Mecca brand's performance as customer visits fell by 8 percent in the period," Burke said, adding that the integration of the 19 casinos acquired from Gala had been successfully completed, and performance was encouraging.
Turning to current trading and outlook, Burke said trading in the four weeks since the start of the second half has been in line with internal expectations and shows a positive improvement over the first half.
"Despite the challenging start to the year against tough H1 comparators, we anticipate operating profit in the second half of the financial year, excluding the impact of the acquired casinos, will be broadly in line with the comparable period." he said.

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