Cardtronics Inc.'s agreement to deploy automated teller machines aboard five Carnival Cruise Line ships is a sign of growing competition in this lucrative niche.

The gain for Cardtronics, which announced the multiyear deal Monday, comes at the expense of BankAtlantic Bancorp Inc., which has operated ATMs since the late 1990s on Carnival ships and those of four other cruise lines, Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Cunard.

Lloyd DeVaux, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., banking company's chief operating officer, said BankAtlantic operates two ATMs on each of 80 ships. It previously was responsible for ATMs on Carnival's entire fleet of 22 ships, but the Cardtronics deal cuts that to 17.

"Our contract [with Carnival] did not expire," DeVaux said. The cruise company has "the right to take away or add ships anytime."

Carnival's agreement with Cardtronics means Carnival likely wants to earn more from the ATMs, DeVaux said. "Cardtronics will not brand the ATMs, so Carnival will receive a larger share of revenues. But Carnival's expenses also will be higher."

Deploying ATMs aboard cruise ships is a lucrative business, DeVaux said. "It's better than the general ATM business, which is a commodity business," he said. "In premier cruise ship locations, ATMs charge cardholders surcharge fees of $3.50, $4 and sometimes $5 per cash withdrawal."

BankAtlantic does not charge its own customers a fee to use its ATMs on the ships.

BankAtlantic and Cardtronics rely on ships' satellite communication systems to process and monitor ATM transactions. BankAtlantic contracts with armored car companies in various ports to deposit funds into its shipboard ATMs, DeVaux said.

A Cardtronics representative declined to discuss how the Houston company plans to replenish its shipboard ATMs, citing security.

The ATM operator has deployed two NCR Corp. cash-dispensing ATMs on each of five ships. The ships carry 2,052 to 3,646 passengers, and the captive audience could generate significant ATM transaction volume.

Carnival operates cashless ships, in which passengers' fares include all meals, snacks, drinks, admission to shows and gyms; however, passengers typically need cash when the ships dock in ports, to pay for retail purchases in ships' shopping malls and to gamble in ship casinos.

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