Wireless gaming poised for approval

Nov 29, 2005 3:27 AM

The Nevada Gaming Control Board held a final workshop last week in Carson City to allow public comments on a variety of new regulations that are currently being considered by regulators.

One of the regulations would allow casinos to offer wireless gaming devices, which would connect gamblers to slots, blackjack, craps or baccarat while they dined in restaurants or lounged by the pool.

"We see an appetite by a generation of people that have grown up using mobile devices," said Joseph Asher, managing director of Cantor Gaming, which manufactures mobile gaming systems and has applied for a state gaming license. "Everybody has a cell phone. People have their Black Berries. Systems like Nintendo and X-Box ”¦ entire generations have grown up with these things."

Based in the United Kingdom, Cantor recently opened an office in Las Vegas. The company currently makes mobile devices for off-track, pari-mutuel bettors.

The Gaming Control Board is expected to consider the proposed regulations at its January meeting. If they recommend passage, the Nevada Gaming Commission could give final approval in February or March.

Once the regulations are approved, companies like Cantor can submit their products to the Board for review. If they pass muster with regulators, the devices would undergo 60-day field trials in participating casinos. The products would become licensed after a successful trial period.

"Each system will have to go through full board and commission scrutiny," said Board Chairman Dennis Neilander.

Once a mobile system is approved and in place, a player would deposit up-front money or use a credit card to get one of the handheld devices. The casino would have to ensure the player was 21 or older by requiring a driver’s license or other proper I.D.

"I certainly think you will see people in various areas of the resort, whether it’s out by the swimming pool, convention center or shopping area or whatever areas, maybe playing a few hands of blackjack," Asher said. "It’s about making the gaming experience more convenient."

The regulations would prohibit operation in parking lots, garages and hotel rooms. They could be used only in casinos with non-restricted licenses and at least 100 slot machines and a table game. Thus bars and restaurants would not qualify.

The mobile units would be taxed the same as a slot machine. Currently, that rate is $330 a year plus 6.75% of its gross win.

Another manufacturer of wireless gaming systems, Diamond I Technologies, provided regulators with information and assurances that its system is safe, secure and battle-tested.

Mike Prasad, the chief technology officer for Louisiana-based Diamond I Technologies, suggested "biometric technologies" as a means to ensure the secure operation of mobile/wireless communication devices, as well as satisfy important security requirements.

Diamond I manufactures the WiFi Casino Gaming System featuring "wireless fidelity," an industry standard for wireless devices that meets FCC standards, and will allow patrons to play slots, video poker and other electronic games via a PDA issued by the casino.

Diamond I is currently seeking a Nevada license to market the system, as well as a Las Vegas hotel/casino to serve as a demonstration facility for its system.

Last month, Diamond I announced it had signed a letter of intent to work with the Palms to supply its PDA-based gambling system.

Wireless gaming was authorized by the state legislature last year with the intent of allowing Nevada casino patrons to gamble in public areas — bars, restaurants, poolside, etc. — via portable or handheld devices such as personal digital assistants (PDA’s).

Of most concern to regulators is the inherent security of such devices — could they be operated by unauthorized players or could their transmissions be interrupted, thus disrupting the system.

One amendment that appears well-received is the proposal to expand pari-mutuel horse wagering outside the state of Nevada.

The Nevada legislature approved interstate horse betting two years ago and several race directors attended the workshop to offer their support.

One Nevada bookmaker estimated interstate account wagering could generate $200 million to $300 million in additional revenue for Nevada casinos.

The new service would also help capture a large segment of the pari-mutuel market that was lost to offshore betting shops and satellite wagering firms like TVG and youbet.com.

Although Nevada bet shops wouldn’t be able to offer rebates like they did several years ago, they could extend hotel services and offer comps and other incentives to interstate bettors, the bookmaker said.

Another proposal that drew public comment was one to allow businesses that offer gambling to charge an admission fee.

Nevada has long mandated that gambling be open and available to the public, but the proposed regulation — the result of Senate Bill 444 passed earlier this year — would seem to weaken that policy.

But before a hotel could operate a fee-for-gambling event, it would have to get approval from the Control Board and set up internal controls and supply a diagram of the placement of the slots and games. The board could ultimately deny, limit or restrict the license.

Most of the support for the regulation has come from nightclubs and casinos that have nightclubs in which gambling, usually gaming machines, are located.

Two regulations that tighten the issuance of casino credit were also discussed. One would prevent casinos from offering payday loans or contracting with companies that offer such loans.

Another would require a person seeking a marker to sign a separate form acknowledging that he understood how Nevada law allows for the collection of a debt.