by Pete Shaw on 25th February 2016 One of the Free Festival’s flagship Edinburgh venues, The Counting House, will be operated by The Gilded Balloon at this year’s Fringe it was revealed today.The Gilded Balloon said they are “really pleased to be operating four venue spaces from The Counting House this year”The Counting House has been run by Alex Petty’s Laughing Horse festival for the last nine years and has played host to acts including The Beta Males, Lewis Schaffer and EastEnd Cabaret. Petty says he had been planning for the eventuality as the venue wasn’t confirmed by the landlords in January as would be usual. “Fortunately familiar faces Janey Godley & Joel Dommett will be staying Free and moving to the Free Sisters”, he told Broadway Baby today.Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show organiser, John Fleming, was less optimistic on his blog. Fleming announced the news that the Gilded Balloon have taken The Counting House including The Peartree and Blind Poet. He said “I am saddened that the Gilded Balloon has taken this decision to poach three free venues.”, although Rowan Campbell, Gilded Balloon’s General Manager, clarified that “The Peartree and Blind Poet are attached to the same building and owned by the same landlord but we won't be running performances in either location.” Alex Petty said he is working with Fleming to find a suitable new home for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Peter Michael Marino, a regular at The Counting House said he was “Devastated” by the news. “The notion that it was ‘pinched’ by a paid-venue organisation, this late in the game, makes it even more upsetting. Alex Petty has treated his Laughing Horse venues and performers with the utmost professional respect; and The Counting House was a prized venue within the free model.”The Gilded Balloon said they are “really pleased to be operating four venue spaces from The Counting House this year”, but made no comment on the effect it may have on acts displaced from The Laughing Horse’s existing programme.Update: 26th Feb. Karen Koren, founder of the Gilded Balloon told Broadway Baby "When The Counting House agreed to work with Gilded Balloon again this year I was thrilled. I have so many wonderful memories of the times I had there from 1991 when I first started it as a year round Comedy venue. Eddie Izzard, Lee Evans, Phill Jupitus, Meera Syal and many of the UK’s now favourite Comedians all performed there at the start of their careers.I am so happy to have been given this opportunity to return and hope one day to be able to turn The Counting House back into one of Edinburgh’s year round ‘go to’ Comedy venues."