November 26, 2012 7:18 pm

Casinos reject parallels to banking

Politicians who use “casino banking”, “casino capitalism” and similar terms to describe the failings of investment banks are tarnishing the reputation of the casino industry itself, according to the chief executive of Rank Group.

Ian Burke told the Financial Times that the industry was getting tired and frustrated with the frequent use of its name in a negative context and wants politicians to desist.

Business secretary Vince Cable has commonly used phrases such as “casino-style investment banking” to justify the need to reform banks.

Labour leader Ed Miliband also referred in his party conference speech in September to a future Labour government being prepared to legislate to ensure that “the high-street bank is no longer the arm of a casino operation”.

Such pejorative usage is damaging to Mr Burke and the industry, they believe, because it makes it harder to get a fair hearing from government and the opposition on reform issues, such as relocating dormant casino licences to areas where there is demand.

The casino industry has long sensed a nervousness among politicians about relaxing gambling policy, fearing a backlash in the rightwing media.

Mr Burke, who has for years been urging politicians not to punish casinos with punitive taxes and tighter regulation, said phrases such as “casino banking” were unfair to both sectors.

“High-risk investment banking is what people are talking about,” said the chief executive of Rank, which operates 37 Grosvenor Casino clubs.

“That’s different with what people do in a casino, which is play for fun, and it is not consistent with what we are trying to do.”

Mr Burke suggested that “casino banking” as a phrase had “had its day”, and that the public was no longer sure what politicians using the phrase were trying to imply.

“It’s a thoughtless phrase,” he said, adding that the casino industry was heavily regulated and taxed.

Guoco, the Honk Kong-based investment group that owns just under 75 per cent of Rank, created jobs and contributed revenues to the Treasury, “but they don’t get feted”, Mr Burke added.

The industry is awaiting a government report on gambling before the end of the year, which it argues can kick-start further job creation.

As well as seeking reform to make casino licences more “portable” around the country, the industry is looking for changes in the number of slot machines allowable in small-sized casinos to make them financially viable.

Tracy Damestani, chief executive of the National Casino Industry Forum, said the “negative connotation” of the term casino did not help in trying to engage politicians on industry reform.

“It’s almost like ‘casino’ is becoming the C-word,” she said.

Mr Burke added: “My aim is to try and help politicians to understand that this is a modern industry. They don’t persecute the car industry . . . about people being killed in cars.”

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