16 March 2017

Casino Canberra’s $7.7 ml loss shows that the house always wins

| David Tuckwell
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Casino Canberra entrance

When it comes to gambling, the house always wins they say—until, of course, it doesn’t.

The city’s only licensed casino, Casino Canberra, shouldered a $7.7 ml loss last year putting the company firmly in the red. The company’s share price has tanked to 5 cents, and the media have been quick to descend.

The bad news for Casino Canberra may come as good news for some. Gambling, often lumped in with tobacco, weapons and the like as an ‘industry of sin’ has come under fire from activist groups who don’t want more gambling in Canberra.

Making a point, the ACT Greens hosted their 2016 election day celebration at The Polish Club precisely because of its ban on pokie machines.

But the headline loss has been met by parent company Aquis Entertainment as water meets a duck’s back. In a firmly-worded press release, the company dismissed the losses as part of its long-term investment strategy.

“Aquis Entertainment will continue to invest strongly in our long-term plan,” CEO Jessica Mellor said.

“Our auditors and directors all believe that the company is financially stable with performance and growth prospects in line with expectations and our business plans and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.”

And they have a point.

The casino, as frequenters may recall, was closed for several months and reopened only in June. While shut, the company shelled out $14ml in renovation costs. Closures are costly; renovations more so. It’s a rare company that shuts shop half the year for renovation while maintaining profitability.

More revealing of the company’s intentions, however, is what they did to their staff: nothing. Companies that are circling the drain usually shoot staff. Staff who remain are then expected to do more with less, while waiting for their turn before the firing squad.

That the casino retained all its staff while sustaining these losses suggest it imagines itself returning to profitability in the short term. The company’s revenue is also growing, as the venue grows in size and presence.

What are we to learn from this? One lesson might be not to trust the press, who failed to put the numbers into context. Another might be that the house always wins, even when it’s losing.

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