We’ve all seen piles of bills making up millions of dollars won by the No Limit Texas Hold ‘em champion at the World Series of Poker. Or the giant cube of cash—a million bucks—once on display at Binion’s Horseshoe in Downtown Las Vegas.
Those are the things dreams are made of in gambling establishments.
Cash has rapidly deteriorated as a status symbol. When you can spend, deposit and collect everything on a mobile device, the actual physicality of cash becomes secondary. Except inside a casino.
Unless you’re a semi-high roller who utilizes markers, cash is still the principal way to play inside a casino. Those bill acceptors on the slot machines are the first stop. Which means, of course, you have to carry your bankroll in cash, making you susceptible to loss or theft.
On your exit from the casino, it’s the same thing in reverse, but a little riskier. Because who knows who spotted your hand pay or cage payout in the event of a lucky win?
And now add germs, which ride along with each bill. In this era of Covid-19, when some people wipe down the packages they buy at the supermarket, cash is a space shuttle for dangerous germs and viruses. Experts estimate germs can survive on the surface of money for more than 36 hours.
So why take the chance? You can buy takeaway food with contactless ease. You can have items delivered curbside without whipping out your wallet. So why hasn’t the casino industry kept pace and found a solution that will end this potentially dangerous situation?
Well the good news is, it has. There’s no longer any need to play with cash or be exposed to all the dangers that go along with it. Why haven’t you seen it? Well, get ready. The coronavirus may be the catalyst to make it arrive sooner rather than later.
Cashless transactions have been the goal of many operators over the past few years.
Christopher Justice, CEO of Global Payments, says it will still take some convincing before cashless systems become the norm.
“Covid-19 has created a public health mandate to touch as little as possible, and emphasizes contactless—or cashless—payments,” he explains. “These payment channels help safeguard both customer and merchant from the virus through reduced or eliminated interpersonal contact.”
However, he adds, there are other considerations before a customer or casino will fully accept a new means of payment.
“Contactless payments will most likely not be a rule, given that it’s up to each jurisdiction’s regulations as well as the casino operator to decide what’s best for them. Two-thirds of consumers have shifted to self-service in order to maintain social distance, and 30 percent leverage contactless forms of payment.”
For Omer Sattar, vice president and co-founder of Sightline Payments, the timing couldn’t be better for payment innovations.
“The industry has been talking about it for a long time, and we’ve all felt that this was coming,” he says. “Needless to say, the American Gaming Association, under the leadership of Bill Miller and a number of the larger operators, started working on this about 18 months ago. Covid-19 seems to be accelerating that pace.”
Because of that preparation, the industry isn’t starting from scratch.
“Gaming is now in a position where I think we will start seeing a transition take place,” Sattar says. “Sometime during the course of this year, you will see operators, both commercial and tribal in multiple jurisdictions, where the patron is doing all the connectivity through their own device, on their mobile phone, connecting both into slot devices and table games. So definitely there is some positive movement taking place.”
Justice agrees that the movement toward cashless transactions was already getting traction when the virus made it imperative.
“Consumer payment trends toward mobile and contactless were already indicating an overwhelming need to modernize. The steep increase in those trends indicates that consumers prefer using a smart device to electronically manage their financial affairs. Early adopters of technology that match consumer commerce expectations will get a disproportionate share of total spend,” he says.
Ryan Reddy, vice president of systems and payment products for IGT, agrees the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the interest of casinos in cashless transactions.
“Up until now, it was a push from the suppliers to the operators and then on to the consumers,” he says. “They weren’t really asking for this, at least not dramatically, in mass numbers. And now we’re seeing that consumers care about this, and this is something important to them, and something they might make their playing decisions based on: Do I go to casino X or casino Y if Y offers me contactless transactions and X doesn’t?”
Mike Rumbolz, president and CEO of payment giant Everi, says it’s taken many years to finally get the casino industry ready for cashless transactions.
“I first started looking at cashless solutions back in 2005,” he says. “So here we are, 15 years later, and it’s taken a pandemic to really get everybody interested in the benefits and how we get this implemented into casinos. But even that far back, it was pretty clear to those of us involved in the fintech portion of gaming that removing as much as possible the last vestiges of cash from the floor would be of great benefit to casinos.”
Even with the added impetus of Covid-19 and the desire for contactless payments, Reddy says it will take a long time before a fully cashless casino can be implemented.
“Today, we have a full spectrum of payment options,” he says. “At the top, you have the most amount of contact and at the bottom, you have the least. Probably the most critical portion of payments is having contact with the environment.
“We see it as sort of three different phases along that spectrum. The first is carded cashless, which has been around for quite some time. The player has a wagering account, but that account is still connected to the physical player card. So you have less interaction with cash than you would in today’s world, but it’s not dramatically reduced.
“In the second phase, cardless cashless, instead of having a physical player card, you’ve got a virtual player card. So it’s basically on your mobile. You’re reducing the need to touch the card itself, but you’re still touching cash in limited interactions at the machine or at the cage in order to deposit and withdraw. And then in the third, which we call IGTPay, the player exclusively uses his mobile. So you get the virtual player card in your mobile, and you’re transferring cash from a variety of sources without touching any cash.”
Rumbolz says up until now, operators were somewhat reluctant to go full steam into cashless transactions because they still saw a certain utility to cash.
“Cash can be used anywhere in the casino,” he says. “Unlike a ticket, which really only goes back into the slot machines and kiosks to redeem, cash can actually go to a table game or a restaurant or a shop, and then also to the front desk of the hotel. So there really is a ubiquity about the use of cash in gaming, especially in a resort environment.”
Comparing cashless payments to the ticket-in, ticket-out phenomenon of a decade or more ago, Rumbolz doesn’t believe operators will be as forceful when moving players to cashless transactions.
“Ticket in, ticket out was of tremendous value to a casino operator,” he explains. “Even though it was rejected roundly by customers and only taken up very slowly by certain operators, once they realized that they could remove that amount of change from a casino floor, that their hard count room would be virtually useless and they could convert it to a restaurant, and their soft count even would become easier to deal with, they got on board.
“They virtually forced the patron, because the patron had no other choice. In most cases, they took the coin acceptors off the slot machines.”
He doesn’t think that will happen with cashless.
“Casino operators are going to allow patrons to choose,” Rumbolz believes. “Depending on the public’s appetite for this, as well as the casino’s pressure to urge them to adopt these new cashless and contactless solutions, we should see something at least similar to the transition that we’ve seen with things such as ApplePay, GooglePay, Tap and Go and those kinds of products.”
For now, however, Everi’s QuikTicket is enjoying a remarkable run, according to Rumbolz. Players can access one of the thousands of Everi kiosks in casinos across North America and deposit money from a debit card to a TITO ticket, then take that ticket to a slot machine or table and immediately be in action. Rumbolz says the acceptance from operators and players has been extraordinary, but he’s looking forward to the next step: a full integrated wallet solution, the CashClub Wallet, which will be available by the end of 2020.
Reddy says TITO was so easy to use that its adaptation was simply a matter of time. It’s different with cashless transactions.
“This one’s a little bit more complicated than TITO, because of the phone interaction,” he says. “That’s kind of the unknown variable there, which could be good or bad. Certainly my mom and dad are using ApplePay, but I don’t know if all players are going to adopt it as quickly.”
Sattar’s Sightline Payments introduced its Play+ system several years ago, meeting with some success. But Sattar says it all starts with the casino’s players club card—the “loyalty” program.
“To this loyalty account, you’ll tie what generically we call ‘stored value,’” he says. “All that means is a pre-funded account that might be housed with a financial institution or a casino. And in this pre-funded account, you have tied different ways of funding your account. It could be a credit card, a debit card or your bank account. But it also could be PayPal, Venmo or Zelle—all these different kinds of payment methodologies that we’re used to using.
“The beauty of the pre-funded account is that it becomes the check and balance for the gaming regulator. That becomes the key control mechanism for the gaming regulatory body. That pre-funded account is now tied into the loyalty program, which is tied to the slot system. It’s tied by some mechanism to table games, where you can move money from that pre-funded account to table games, and any other system that the casino theoretically has, including retail and dining and nightlife and all of those different items.
“So the consumer experience really becomes similar to Uber, but with the nuance of gaming. The consumer will be able to walk up to a slot machine, use the pre-funded account to pack a phone or card into that slot machine, and move money into the credit meter. Or walk up to a table, move money from that pre-funded account and purchase chips right at the table. Now you have completely eliminated cash from the ecosystem, unless, of course, the consumer really wants it, which we think most people are not going to want. And that’s what that experience looks like.”
As a former regulator (he was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board from 1985 to 1988), Rumbolz is familiar with regulators’ reluctance to allow players access to bank accounts, credit and debit cards and even ATMs on the casino floor. He understands that reluctance.
“People often forget that one of the obligations of a regulator is to make sure the industry remains healthy,” says Rumbolz. “And the biggest difficulty for people on my side of the industry—the supply side—in regulatory jurisdictions throughout the U.S., whether they be commercial or tribal, is bringing technology within the casinos up to the same level as technology in general society. There are a lot of reasons for that. I completely understand them. And I would expect regulators to be cautious as they look at new technologies coming into the casino space. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I’ve certainly never seen anything as devastating as this pandemic has been to the gaming industry. But hopefully it will spur changes that will keep players and employees safe.”
Rumbolz says he’s pleasantly surprised with the approach of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, particularly Chairwoman Sharon Douglass Morgan, who told GGB last month, “I’ve been actually pretty vocal in my support of trying to find a way to modernize wagering and finding ways to implement cashless payments. During this time, there has been some progress in finding ways to mitigate contact with payments, whether they be for retail or for gaming, and so we will definitely work with the technology division on that, and the manufacturers and those operators who want to explore that.
“But even before the Covid pandemic, it was definitely something that was being discussed. Of course, responsible gaming being part of that conversation is also important, and depending on who you talk to, there could be ways to install alerts on people’s phones or through their banks about responsible spending. So I’m definitely eager and willing to have those conversations with manufacturers and operators.”
Reddy echoes Rumbolz’s admiration for Nevada regulators looking for cashless solutions.
“They’ve been great to work with,” he says. “Immediately after this happened, we reached out to them, they reached out to us. We had great conversations in terms of what we were thinking. I’m sure they had similar conversations with other stakeholders, but the impressive thing was that we had this conversation right away.”
Fears that cashless payments might increase problem gambling have largely been dismissed because of the transparency of the transactions. Where most problem gamblers secret away money, moving it as cash from one location to another, a cashless transaction leaves footprints that are easily and quickly noted.
Sattar says that while it’s easy to recognize a problem gambler, cashless transactions can actually encourage responsible gaming.
“We actually think more needs to be done in this manner,” he says. “There are great, dedicated, smart and intelligent resources in our industry that are focused on it. Unfortunately, there are other resources that are not as focused on it as they should be.
“There are lessons from financial services that we believe should be applied to responsible and problem gaming, especially in the digital ecosystem. I’ll give you one example. Whoever you bank with—Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America or any others—they all have a banking mobile app. In that app, they now show you high-level visuals, a graph, a pie graph or another graphic that shows you where you spend your money. It can show you how much you spent for food or on travel or entertainment, and whether that was up or down from last month. That’s a very high-level visualization tool that I can see being useful in a responsible gaming context.”
Rumbolz says Everi already has some tools in place, but also agrees more could be done.
“For at least the last decade, we’ve had the ability to allow the players to set their own limits, whether it be at an ATM or a kiosk or now through a QuikTicket transaction,” he says. “And ultimately, if it’s going to be through a smartphone transaction, the player can set their own limit, and that limit will stay in place no matter how much they may have changed their mind after running through the money.
“It allows them to budget, but more importantly, it can alert the individual, the operator or virtually anyone you choose to have it alert. Once the system’s in place, it will track every dollar that goes into gaming transactions, and that’s valuable for everybody.”
Sattar says the AGA has been a driving force behind this technology. A few years ago, payment processing was largely an online gaming concern, since few credit card companies and banks would get involved with online deposits and withdrawals. But Sattar says it’s achieved critical mass.
“There are really deep discussions taking place with large issuing banks, but also with the networks like Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. And not just as an ancillary benefit of, ‘Hey, this is an online-only thing,’ or, ‘This is a sports betting-only thing.’ There is $250 billion worth of cash circulating in the U.S. gaming industry. How do we help?”
Count On CountR
Long before the Covid-19 outbreak, CountR was at the leading edge of gaming payment technologies, including CashIO self-service payment kiosks, the TITA table micro-kiosk and other cash access products. The company, represented in U.S. markets by Phi Gaming, offers operators the technologies they need to integrate the latest payment mediums and a complementary suite of player services.
CountR’s CashIO Platinum curved 32-inch display delivers an extended range of features, while its powerful platform connects to all types of cashless transactions, including e-wallets. It also delivers sophisticated player identification and club registration with ID reading to meet the most complex regulatory requirements.
As omni-channel kiosks, CashIO smart terminals interface to multiple systems, redeeming casino TITO, sports betting, horse racing betting and other types of wagering tickets and wallet accounts from a single unit.
Other major functionalities comprise cash access (ATM and POS), jackpots payment, bonusing, advertising, handling multi-currency and much more—simultaneously saving operators real estate and increasing accessibility by combining functionalities under one hood.
CountR’s TITA suite is the industry’s only end-to-end payment solution for live games. With its new POS (debit card buy-in) feature, true TITO capability and the industry’s fastest integrated bulk bill validator, CountR anticipates TITA will offer benefits to many of the most prestigious properties in Las Vegas and around the globe, tribal and commercial.
CountR products can be linked to CountR ART software, enabling comprehensive remote monitoring and management for full auditing and servicing purposes, boosting operational efficiencies.
“Mobile and cashless technologies will continue to become more and more prominent,” says CountR CEO Rainer Seyer. “Our range of products fits into any gaming environment, and the expertise and local reach of our distribution partners ensure we can provide a great level of service.”