Gambling with casinos' reputation

At this time of year it is normal to look back over the past 12 months and try to pick up on a single event that crystallises the mood of the times.

Anthony Hilton: ' If the name that describes a sector has become tarnished in the public mind, it is not something one business can resolve.'
Anthony Hilton: ' If the name that describes a sector has become tarnished in the public mind, it is not something one business can resolve.'

And for me it came in a comment just the other day from Ian Burke, chief executive of the Rank Group. His firm was once one of our biggest film-makers, then it made most of its money via its Rank Xerox subsidiary. It gradually evolved into clubs and gambling and it is from this latter pursuit that it makes most of its money today.

Thus it was that its CEO complained to the FT that politicians who talk about casino banking and casino capitalism, or use similar terms to describe the failings of investment banks, are tarnishing the reputation of the casino industry. He said his is a trustworthy industry where corporate and executive behaviour is beyond reproach, customers are treated fairly, the regulation is strict and the money is always safe.

It is not that the reputation of casinos had been dragged through the mud by associating them with banks, but rather it is the use of the actual word casino to describe a range of trading activities driven by executive greed and irresponsibility that ended in disaster.

‘High risk investment banking is what people are talking about,’ said Burke. ‘That is different from what people do in a casino, which is play for fun.’

It is a difficult problem to address. If a single company has a reputational issue, there are ways in which it can mitigate the problem; if the name that describes the whole sector has become tarnished in the public mind, it is not something one business on its own can resolve, even if it did know what to do.

Burke said that the very fact the term casino has come into disrepute makes it much harder to get a fair hearing from the Government on issues such as relocating dormant casino licences to new areas.

Meanwhile, if in the approaching season of good cheer anyone has some bright ideas about how to limit the collateral damage that arises when your name gets linked to the banking sector, you know where to take them.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London’s Evening Standard

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