Community banks in Indiana and Illinois have taken advantage of the gambling boom by installing wireless automated teller machines on riverboat casinos.
Legalized casino gambling has spread from two states in 1988 to 24 today; riverboat casinos were introduced in 1991. International Gaming & Wagering Business has estimated that gaming is a $44.4 billion business in the United States.
Mercantile National Bank of Indiana and Bank of Alton in Illinois reap fee and interchange income from the high volume of transactions at their riverboat ATMs.
For several years banks have installed ATMs in remote locations that use satellite technology. Bank Atlantic has installed ATMs on Carnival cruise ships, for example.
But this is the first use of a high-speed cellular system in a mobile ATM location.
"Riverboats are good locations for banks to target with wireless services," said Liam Carmody, president of Carmody & Bloom Inc., Ridgewood, N.J. "Not only is the service cheaper than land lines, but it enables banks to access remote locations."
"We saw a need for this service," said Paul Dzurovcik, assistant vice president and manager of technology at $545 million-asset Mercantile National, "but we needed specialized technology."
The Hammond, Ind., bank uses a product dubbed Wireless ATM Solution by its developer, Gooitech LP, a two-year-old Schaumburg, Ill., company. The software plugs into an ATM and, with a modem and antenna, converts it into a machine that can transmit data over a cellular link.
The current system works with Diebold Inc. machines, but Gooitech said it is developing software that would satisfy the specifications of NCR Corp. machines.
Mercantile estimated an average of 20,000 transactions a month since installing its ATM last July on a gambling boat anchored in a marina at Hammond on Lake Michigan.
The $179 million-asset Bank of Alton did not give volume data but said it had installed a second ATM two months ago in the gambling boat on the Mississippi.
The bank expects to break even within nine to 10 months, said a spokeswoman. Bank of Alton does not charge a transaction fee.
Mercantile is charging $1 per transaction for its service because of the cost of installing the technology, said Mr. Dzurovcik.
"Gooitech's product is as efficient if not more efficient than traditional land lines, and it can be more cost-effective," he said.
Bank of Alton is also using the software at a local horse track. Gooitech sees a growing market for its software at concert venues and temporary shopping areas.
"Cellular technology is more reliable, and there are some delay issues with the use of satellites," said Dale Detlinger, vice president, electronic markets, at Electronic Data Systems Corp., Plano, Tex.
EDS, provider of an ATM transaction authorization service, is the two banks' technology partner in this venture.
Besides maintaining the look and feel of a traditional ATM, the riverboat machines allow their owners to identify problems from their offices instead of waiting until a technician arrives on site.
For added security, an optional tracking system warns the owner if an ATM is moved as little as three meters.