Rank leisure has hit the jackpot with a new generation of affluent bingo addicts sending profits soaring.
Bingo is attracting a younger crowd
Free-spending punters in the firm's bingo halls and casinos boosted earnings at Rank's gaming division by 13% in 2002, figures show.
The cash bonanza more than made up for a relatively poor year at Rank's Hard Rock Cafe business, as the tourist trap diners were hit by a downturn in global travel.
The Rank group as a whole reported a £12m ($19m) improvement in underlying profits to £200.3m, boosting its share price by 1.25p to 235.75p.
The company said its UK Mecca bingo business increased turnover by 3% to £231.7m.
Rank has worked hard to rid bingo of its blue-rinse and carpet slippers image.
The company has successfully targeted the lucrative girls night out market.
It has also benefited from a relaxation of the tough rules governing the gaming industry.
So although attendances at Rank's bingo halls fell by 5% in 2002, to 22.6 million, players were spending more on games.
Spend-per-head was up 8%, to £10.22, as players were tempted by a range of new gambling options.
The average age of bingo players also continues to fall, according to Rank, with 45% of members now under the age of 44.
Younger players tend to visit less frequently but spend more per visit, particularly on interval games and slot machines, the company said.
Further de-regulation in the gaming industry is expected this year, with casinos expected to muscle in on the bingo market.
Profits at the firm's Grosvenor Casinos rose to £163.3m in 2002 from £140.6m a year earlier.
However, Rank's interactive gaming division continued to struggle, losing £5m over the course of the year.
The company said it was planning to make cost savings following its recent purchase of online bookmaker Blue Square.
Hard Rock blues
Meanwhile, operating profits at the Hard Rock Cafe fell to £27.6m from £38m a year earlier.
Food and beverage sales at Hard Rock's sites worldwide held steady.
But the lack of tourist traffic in some cities meant merchandise sales were lower.
Rank said it plans to cut 10% of its staff at Hard Rock's US headquarters.
Chief executive Mike Smith said: "2002 was another good year for Rank.
"Our all-round strength and spread of activities enabled us to improve the group's financial results and meet our overall targets."
The company owns or operates about 125 Hard Rock cafes and has a further 122 bingo halls and 35 casinos.