LCI loses out over Ramadan - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

FOR more than a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of prayer, fasting and charity. It is also, according to London Clubs International, a time when Muslims put away their chips and stop gambling.

The casino operator yesterday became probably the first quoted British company to cite the Islamic holy month as a factor in a profit warning, sending its shares falling by 6p to 103p.

In a trading update ahead of its full-year results, the company said its London flagship, the plush Les Ambassadeurs on Park Lane, had suffered a fall in business as Arab and Asian punters, who are many of the world???s biggest high-rollers, stayed home during the festival, which started in October.

Bill Timmins, LCI???s chief executive, said: ???Historically, Ramadan is not a great time for us. When it falls in December the business isn???t really there anyway. But October is traditionally a very busy month.???

The impact on LCI???s profits was accentuated by an unusual run of luck for those high-rollers when they resumed gambling, resulting in a lower win percentage. The company said, however, recent results at Les A, as it is known, were now ???closer to a normalised pattern???.

The poor run at Les A coincided with disruption at two of LCI???s other London casinos ??? the revamped Fifty in St James???s, which lost ??2 million during the year, and the Sportsman, which reopened in December after a four-month closure. Linda Lillis, LCI???s finance director, said the company expected to do no better than break even in the second half at the operating level, equating to a loss after interest. ???Some of our casinos achieved a profit but others, in particular Les A, did not,??? she said.

Douglas Jack, analyst at Panmure Gordon, reduced his full-year forecast from a pre-tax profit of ??12.8 million to a loss of ??2 million. However, he left his 2006 estimates unchanged after the return to a more normal win margin.

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