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27/10/2001 No.12
he Good Gambler
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Will Gambling Expansion Kill Poker?

The Budd report in the UK signalled a change and a relaxation in the attitude of the Gaming Board. Now all sorts of new projects are springing up inside British casinos and many bigger casinos are being opened and built right now. Luton and Southend will get extra casinos, as too Brighton, and Manchester has seen a Hard Rock casino development. Even the sleepy Isle of Wight will see the return of casino gambling after a 10 year break.

Casino expansion is happening all around the world however, in places where the bucks really are mega. New York State sees laws passed for six new casinos to be built, some as close as 75 miles from the city. Korea has witnessed the swamping of its state casino and plans to open up many. Mr. Ho's forty year rule as sole owner (him and a few triad leaders) of the ten Macau casinos has been brought to an end by the Chinese government with 3 new casinos to be tendered for. The front runners are the big boys MGM and Park Place.

South Africa has legitimized its casinos and many new ventures have sprung up with incredible numbers of customers. Down under however, where the people gamble more per capita than anywhere else, curbs have stopped the development of gambling in general. This is forcing Kerry Packer, owner of Australia's most successful casino, the Crown in Melbourne, to look further afield for development. Where? Well Britain of course.

Whats on offer here is easy to see. If London Clubs ever go down completely after their ridiculous venture in Vegas, Packer may be there to pick up the pieces and prevent a monopoly inquest that would surely come if Rank or one of the others tried to add LCI clubs to their list.

But will any of this help poker as so many people have been crying out. "Change is good, it will allow poker to expand!" Their reasons were never made clear to me but the evidence is there to suggest that poker is about to go ex-casino. I mean into private poker clubs. It works in LA, it will have to work here. The reasons are not too hard to see. Every casino manager has the task of increasing profit now in a corporate way that didn't exist in the good old days. If one year a club does well then that years figures are there to be used as the next target and so on. Its not like it used to be. Atmosphere counts for nothing.

Evidence is seen in the closing of Reading and Northampton cards rooms. Reading was understandable, it was small and incongruous and the players action was small compared to the normal business. Northampton however brought in the new peril, Roulette machines. Renting at £100 per week and returning a minimum average profit of £500 per week they make every struggling casino manager think about the profit per square metre (or foot). With those figures, little is safe. Even the Russell Sq. poker room profit target of £750,000 for 2001 is easily matched by just 30 machines.

Lets just hope that as card rooms close the others will do so well from their demise that their own future is safe, for now.