Thursday, November 10, 2011

Singapore Hawker in Jackpot Dispute with Marina Bay Sands (MBS)

The Straits Times today reported that Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has decided to pay Madam Choo Hong Eng the full sum of S$416,742.11.  The dispute between Madam Choo (a Hawker) and MBS arose when Madma Choo hit the jackpot but was subsequently told by the casino that her machine had malfunctioned.  Instead of the sum of $416,742.11 (which was displayed on the machine), MBS offered Madam Choo a sports car worth S$258,962 and S$50,000 in cash.
In its statement to the media, MBS spokesperson explained that "Marina Bay Sands regrets any confusion over the numbers displayed when Madam Choo Hong Eng won the Lotus Evora slot jackpot in our casino.  After carefully reviewing this matter, Marina Bay Sands will pay the patron the amount that was displayed on the slot machine."   The spokesperson added: "We deeply regret the inconveniences caused."
From a Crisis Communications perspective, I find MBS’ initial response lacking in forethought as the outcome in which MBS paid Madam Choo the full sum was inevitable.  I believe the outcome was inevitable as a quick calculation shows the difference to be a mere $107,780 - a minor sum compared to the amount required to repair the casino’s reputation.  In my opinion, MBS was in a no-win situation as even if the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) ruled in its favour, the negative publicity would have done its damage.
While I agree that the casino needs to protect its shareholders’ interests by ensuring that all jackpot payments are “legitimate”, from the facts of the case as presented in the media, I feel that MBS should have just paid Madam Choo the full sum in the first instance and avoided the negative publicity.  In fact, an astute PR department would have been able to turn the incident in MBS’ favour by showing how MBS valued its patrons.
To me, the key lesson for PR Professionals and Crisis Communicators is that sometimes being “right” is not the most important.  This is because businesses are profit-driven and sometimes the “right” decision is what impacts the bottom-line the least.

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