Wednesday, June 11, 2003

That’s rich: Gaming industry hubris over ATMs

Gotta love a group of folk that, when the chips are looking slightly down, go into reckless overdrive. And that’s today’s poker machine industry in Victoria (whose actual customers, meanwhile, often don’t need any prompting at all to go into reckless overdrive – but that’s a whole other topic).

What’s got the pokie kings spitting their gold-plated dummies is this. A bank, heeding a Productivity Commission finding that ATMs were heavily used by problem gamblers, decides to disassociate itself from a front line role, dispensing cash in venue foyers.

Hardly a seismic event, you may think, even in the particularly prim and spacious file category of “banking morality”. While the other three big banks have said they won’t be taking up the slack on this front, predictably a smaller player has said that it will relish the opportunity to expand. Plus, even if ATMs were banned from poker machine venue foyers, there is always going to be Eftpos, right?

Stunned”, “a disgrace and a direct attack”, and “insult[ing]” were some of the poker machine industry’s responses, quoted in today’s Herald Sun. (URL valid to ~ 7 June 2003 only) One wonders what words they may have left in reserve, should a real threat to their super-profitable livelihoods ever be made – you know, Boy Who Cried Wolf, and all that.

Perhaps the industry is much more like its customers than it thinks it is, after all – it doesn’t not need to have anything in reserve, because luck will always step in at the eleventh hour. But the corollary of believing in luck, of course, is rampant superstition. Indeed, the venues are, at some level far below the rational and fiscal, spooked by the exit of a big brand from their foyers. Hence these soothing, mantra-like industry refrains, paradoxically* interspersed among the venues' statements of outrage: “there are so many financial institutions around that will step in to fill the hole” and “[the] withdrawal [will] have a negligible effect”.

Ah yes – there’s a bank born every minute too, these days. Which is actually sort of true, if you’re Melbourne pokie king, and sometime Chairman of mysterious “investment bank” Sino Securities, Bruce Mathieson. Sino Securities is probably best known for being behind a pre-float share-issue scandal involving former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett. Mathieson, meanwhile is on the other side of the counting cage at Sino, being a long-term (and so long-suffering) shareholder. But don’t write off Bruce as a loser too easily – back in the eighties, he was in a three-way business partnership that owned more than 200 NSW hotels in NSW – his co-partners were the since-convicted and jailed criminals, Alan Bond and Brian Yuill.

* this is no paradox, however, if you know, or have ever dealt with, a sociopathic (or (“problem”) gambler.

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