'Money Machine' issues vouchers at the Angle Inn

CASHLESS ATM PAYS OFF

September 09, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

The Angle Inn, a Dundalk bar and restaurant, is filled with trophies from all the amateur softball, lacrosse, bowling and any-other-sport-you-can-name teams that inn owner Clyte Franklin spends $100,000 to sponsor each year.

But no marketing ploy, community activity or happy hour has paid off as quickly as the less than $5,000 he spent on "Your Money Machine," the newfangled automated teller machine Mr. Franklin installed in his establishment about a month ago.

This particular ATM doesn't emit cash, it spits out a paper voucher, or "scrip," redeemable for cash at the bar or good for paying the bill after customers eat or drink. The money gets transferred electronically from the cardholder's bank account to the bar's account within a day or two.

"This takes cash out of my drawer and puts it into my bank account," said Mr. Franklin, whose bar is a stone's throw from the Baltimore Travel Plaza truck stop near Interstate 95. In the brief time he's had the machine, Mr. Franklin said customers have taken more than $2,000 out of his register and some of that money has gone right back in because of purchases that otherwise wouldn't have been made.

Except for the vouchers, "Your Money Machine," made by Atlanta-based BankCard Services Corp., works just like a bank-owned ATM at a remote location. The machine doesn't accept deposits or bill payments, but it can field account balance inquiries and transfer money between accounts. Like a bank-owned ATM, the only fee involved is the one the bank charges for the use of "foreign" ATMs.

The Angle Inn's machine accepts cards from a variety of bank systems, including Plus, Honor, Avail and Relay, as well as the cash advance programs offered by Visa, Master Card, Discover and American Express. The MOST system is expected to come online in a few weeks.

BankCard Services has sold about 500 of the machines in less than a year, starting with California and other western states and moving east, according to Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Hicks, a 30-year veteran of the banking industry.

The company is working through Michael O'Connell, an independent businessman in Bel Air who started selling the machines last month to merchants in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

"The nice thing about this is you don't have to load it with money," Mr. O'Connell said, adding that "you don't have the security problems" of an outdoor ATM that pays cash.

Merchants like it too, he said, because it cuts down on their transaction costs and on the bad checks many bar and restaurant owners have to handle. "We're really getting into a cashless society," he said.

Maybe so, but on a weekday morning back at the Angle Inn, three customers were arguing the merits of the machine. The men wondered whether drinkers might not find the machine's in-house access to money a bit too intoxicating.

"It makes it too easy to get too sauced," one said.

Mr. Franklin, president of the East Baltimore Licensed Beverage Association, assured that all his bartenders are certified in alcohol management techniques, and know when to say "When" to a drunken customer.

Baltimore plaintiffs attorney Marvin Ellin predicted that lawsuits were likely involving the new technology, if only from a hungover cardholder who accuses the bartender of helping him advance $1,500 from a credit card the night before.

Mr. Ellin, while acknowledging that a strong defense exists for lawsuits involving the new ATM, said litigation seemed inevitable.

"It is over a period of time almost a certainty that there will be a suit over it," he said.

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