Wireless gaming closer to reality

May 9, 2006 4:22 AM

Cantor Gaming won a recommendation last week from Nevada’s Gaming Control Board for licensing to market its hand-held, mobile gambling devices in the state.

Nevada’s Gaming Commission will have final say on the licensing at a May 18 meeting.

The board endorsed Cantor after Joe Asher, managing director and vice president of the company, said Cantor is ready to invest "significant" capital to install mobile gambling systems in Nevada hotel-casinos.

Asher also said the devices should attract gamblers in their 20s and early 30s who have grown up with video games, cell phones and other devices, as well as older gamblers who use such technology.

"This is a groundbreaking new element to gaming technology," Asher told the New York Times. "The technology itself has been sitting around for years without casinos taking advantage, so why not use it?"

Regulations passed in March, based on the 2005 legislation, made Nevada the first in the nation to approve use of handheld devices for gambling in any public area of the state’s casinos, such as restaurants and pool areas.

Rules allow a range of games, including bingo, poker, blackjack and horse race betting. Use of the devices in hotel rooms and other places that can’t be supervised is prohibited.

Despite the recommendation, regulators are still in the process of formulating technical requirements for mobile gaming devices.

One issue that needs to be resolved is the type of acceptable identification system. So far, it appears the Control Board is leaning toward a biometric scanner that can read the user’s thumbprint.

Another possibility is an ID system from Shuffle Master that is based on gambling behavior. In any case, regulators are expected to finalize technical standards by the end of the year.

Advocates say the move will better use resort space that is increasingly being devoted to non-gambling activities, such as shopping, dining and clubbing.

But they admit it’s not likely to lead to the lucrative world of Internet betting, which is barred by state and federal law.

Major casino operators Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Mirage and neighborhood casino operator Station Casinos say they are taking a wait-and-see approach as the regulations and the technology evolve.

Boyd Gaming Corp. has said it is unsure about demand for hand-held gadgets, despite having electronic bingo devices at halls in its Las Vegas properties.

So far, no field trials for handheld gaming devices have been announced.

Cantor Gaming is an affiliate of Cantor Fitzgerald, the New York-based financial services company. It plans to use bond-trading technology, which has been used for mobile gambling devices in Britain since September 2003.

But Cantor is not alone in exploring the potential for handheld gaming.

Others interested in the technology include gaming giant IGT (International Game Technology), the world’s largest manufacturer of slot machines; FortuNet Inc., a Las Vegas-based gambling device manufacturer; and Shuffle Master, a Nevada-based table game and system manufacturer, which has entered into a partnership with Sona Wireless to create a sevice it calls Casino on Demand.

"We will offer table, slot and sports services on our wireless platform," said Kirsten Clark, marketing director for Shuffle Master. "Customers eventually will be able to watch sports in real time on their devices, and wager on them, as well."

Another company that has developed its own wireless device is Louisiana-based Diamond I Inc. "We are pleased with the speed of the Control Board’s review, as we prepare for our own application process," said Diamond I CEO David Loflin.