Cashless bets in the cards

Sep 3, 2002 10:20 AM

Debit cards in slot machines? A seamless connection that links your bank to your casino? That day may be coming faster than you think.

Nevada regulators are currently accepting comment on proposed rules allowing gamblers a variety of new ways to make cash transactions in casinos.

"The ticket-in/ticket-out system is just transitional,’’ says Greg Gale of Gaming Control. Within the next two years, regulators say smart cards and other electronic transfer devices could become the coin of the realm in Nevada casinos.

By year-end, the Nevada Gaming Commission is expected to adopt regulations that will bring new technology to the casino floor. Fully functioning electronic slots could be in play by summer 2005.

How far will so-called "cashless wagering" go? Experts tell GamingToday that some operators would like to see a fully integrated system that permits players to shift funds directly from their checking accounts to the casino floor.

"The day is coming when debit cards will be accepted by slot machines,’’ said one.

While regulators aren’t quite ready to climb out onto that limb ”” and casino critics vow all-out war to block such a move ”” smart cards are already in play in some jurisdictions. Sun International’s South African casino, for example, furnishes customers with the programmable cash cards.

Nevada is preparing to follow suit, Gale says. Once bona fide cash metering systems are in place to ensure proper accounting, the state’s casinos will have the option to deal their own smart cards.

"There has to be a handshake between the cash system and the slot machine. There must be accounting for the in and out, and audit verification,’’ Gale says. He adds that much of this internal accounting is already happening through sophisticated player tracking.

Several local companies are poised to cash in on cashless wagering. MIS International is already providing its "Smart Card Cashless" system to Sun International and four other property groups in Europe. And a deal with Switzerland is pending, said chief operating officer David Lysne.

"Casinos say there’s a 40 percent cost savings to them (with cashless technology),’’ reports MIS marketing exec Sharon Marshall. They also like the fact that MIS’ cards are triple encrypted for security, and are adaptable to virtually every operating system. But what about "problem gamblers?" Lysne says spending limits can be easily programmed to keep bettors in line. Its PIN and tracking fetures also clamp down on theft and laundering.

Another Las Vegas firm, Ardent Gaming, has developed "Easy Money," a portable electronic funds carrier. The player loads funds from an ATM-like machine on the casino floor and uses that e-cash to gamble, dine or make other hotel purchases. A digital display provides a running balance.

"Smart cards are great, but people don’t value them. They misplace them. The cards melt on the dashboard, or they lose their magnetic reader strip,’’ says Travis Deer, Ardent’s vice president of sales and marketing.

The size of a car alarm key fob, the Easy Money module would be dispensed by the casino. GLI approval is pending, and testing is under way in Mississippi, Deer said.

Because players can use automated kiosks to load up and cash out, casinos say their employees are freed up to better concentrate on other customer service functions. Easy Money is serviced by a Cassomat machine manufactured by Perconta, another Las Vegas-based company.

Looking further ahead, some industry innovators envision bank debit cards as the ultimate casino currency.

"I can see that happening,’’ said one manufacturer. "The big question is control. Would there be some kind of daily limit? There are still a lot of unknowns." Marshall calls it a complex "ethical debate."

But with an estimated 80 percent of today’s slots already capable of handling electronic fund transfers, the line separating tickets and smart cards from everyday debit cards and credit cards appears to be blurring beyond recognition.