LONDON: Ladbroke, the hotels and betting-shop group, is poised for a dramatic comeback as an important force in the gaming industry with the purchase of three London casinos. If the deal proceeds, it will bring Ladbroke back into top-flight gaming almost 15 years after it was thrown out by the Gaming Board for illegally enticing gamblers away from rival West End casinos. It has offered more than GBP50 million (about HK$595 million) to the leisure tycoon Trevor Hemmings for his private company City Clubs - owner of Maxims, Charlie Chester's and the Golden Horseshoe. The deal has not yet been finalised and Ladbroke is still undertaking business checks. The move will also reinforce the push by Ladbroke's new chief executive, Peter George, to focus the company on hotels and gambling. Ladbroke has substantial property assets and owns Texas, the do-it-yourself, chain, but these are no longer regarded as core activities. Ladbroke refused to comment on the deal. But casino sources said Mr George reckoned he could demonstrate that all the managers and directors involved in the 1979-81 scandal had now left the group. The last stumbling block, Cyril Stein, the Ladbroke chairman at the time of the row, stepped down last September. City Clubs, which makes profits of about GBP6 million, will give Ladbroke a spread across the gaming spectrum. Maxims in Kensington appeals to high-rollers. The Golden Horseshoe in Bayswater is a mid-market club; while Charlie Chester's in Soho, recently refurbished in a Wild West theme, attracts small punters with table limits as low as GBP1. Ladbroke believes it can add value to the clubs by increasing limits, refurbishing interiors, and tapping the clubs into its extensive marketing network. It has yet to win Gaming Board approval for the deal, but could operate them under the board's ''continuance agreement'' while its suitability as owner is considered. A deal with Ladbroke will net Hemmings a handsome profit. He bought Maxims from Mecca Leisure for GBP15 million when Mecca was at the nadir of its financial troubles; and he picked up Charlie Chester's and the Golden Horseshoe at knockdown prices from the financially beleaguered Brent Walker group. Hemmings, a resident of Jersey, is already one of Britain's wealthiest men, ranking 69th on The Sunday Times list of the rich. He led a management buyout of Pontin's holiday camps and then sold the business to Scottish and Newcastle Breweries (S and N). He went on the S and N board and still owns 18.5 million S and N shares, worth about GBP100 million. He has several other business interests, including Lingfield racecourse. Ladbroke's expulsion from casinos made front-page headlines for weeks. After an undercover operation by Gaming Board inspectors, it was alleged that Ladbroke, which then owned four West End clubs - the Hertford, the Park Lane, the Ladbroke and the Park Tower - had broken guidelines by enticing members to gamble and sending pretty girls to punters' hotel rooms. Ladbroke was also said to have recruited a private eye for a ''James Bond-style operation'' to spy on high-rollers at rival clubs. The private eye said he gave lists of car registrations to a Ladbroke manager who, the police alleged, used them to track down the cars' owners. The company then sent the heavy gamblers gifts to lure them from competitors, such as Victor Lownes' Playboy Club.