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Debit cards coming
to slot machines

Apr 16, 2003 3:39 AM

By KEN WARD

Coming soon to a slot near you: debit cards.

Pending approval by the Nevada Gaming Commission, players will be able to use their bank debit cards as cash in slot machines. Proposed guidelines allow withdrawals at the rate of $1,000 per card per day.

"Everyone’s used to debit cards and PIN numbers. We’ll be seeing more and more of it [in casinos],’’ said gaming regulator Greg Gale.

Table players would also benefit under the new regulations; traveler’s checks could be cashed directly at the tables.

Casinos and slot makers see the new rules as a positive development for players, and a natural evolution from the growing use of tickets and vouchers. More than 70 casinos statewide are using some form of ticket-in/ticket-out system.

Meantime, tax-minded regulators are setting up new rules for online slot metering systems (OSMS) that will closely track drop and win totals in the expanding electronic age.

Proponents call the debit card system a win-win proposition for casinos and customers.

First, the cards will speed up the velocity of play by eliminating more coin hoppers and their time-consuming fills.

Second, the installation of debit card receptors in slots will effectively do away with ATM machines. Slots will, in fact, become ATMs.

Third, the problem of odd increments goes away. "A quarter machine doesn’t know what to do with a ticket that reads $12.37,’’ Gale notes.

Gaming Control Board member Scott Scherer expects that the proposals — two years in the making — will be "pretty well received" by the Gaming Commission when it meets Thursday. After that initial review, the commission could give the final go-ahead as early as May.

Once approved, the state will immediately begin accepting applications for debit card equipment.

Scherer recommended the 24-hour, $1,000 limit. He initially considered a smaller amount, but learned that most ATMs cap withdrawals at that level.

"It seemed appropriate to have some limits,’’ he said. "It seems like the responsible thing to do.’’

The new rules also impose limits on which machines can accept debit cards. For starters, eligible devices must be linked to an online slot metering system. And only non-restricted venues — those with more than 15 machines — can offer the debit card service. That rules out most, but not all, grocery stores.

As part of the regulatory reform, casinos with annual gross gaming revenues of $10 million or more would have to install online slot metering systems within two years.

To soften the fiscal blow, the state will not require the removal of older slot machines that cannot communicate with online metering systems. Further, the rules permit the commission chairman to grant waivers "if a significant portion of a licensees’ devices are incapable of communicating with OSMS."

Waivers may also be granted for vendors to make selected changes and upgrades to machines without having to link them to a tracking system.

"The $10 million threshold is still in, but they don’t have to replace slots,’’ Gale emphasized.

Casino operators and gamemakers have remained conspicuously low-key on the upcoming changes.

An executive for IGT, the world’s leading slot manufacturer, pointedly declined to comment, saying only, "We’re monitoring the situation.’’ Alliance Gaming did not return a phone call.

But, clearly, casinos are ready to roll. With an estimated 80 percent of today’s slots already capable of handling electronic fund transfers, debit cards will soon become the coin of the realm.