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Cashless Connections

As several cashless payment solutions compete and, in many cases, partner, the path to cash-free gaming accelerates

Cashless Connections

The technology has been there.

In any number of consumer-facing businesses around the world, payment without cash is so common as to be an afterthought, particularly among younger consumers.

Not in casinos, which have held onto the cash culture longer than nearly any other kind of business. However, as the casino demographic ages, the newest casino customers are those who have come to expect cash-free payment with everything they buy.

“My kids give us their cash and ask us to put it on their Dream Card so they can go and not walk around with cash,” says Richard Primus, senior vice president and chief information officer for Penn Entertainment. “They’re in their teens right now, and they will be future guests of ours.”

Penn Entertainment, operator of some 43 casino properties in 20 U.S. states, is among the pioneers in trying to change casino payment systems not only to accommodate those new players, but to offer a secure, viable alternative to cash that is, most importantly, easy to use.

It’s not a new effort; operators have been considering cashless solutions for more than a decade, and the seed for removing cash from the casino experience goes back further, to when coins disappeared from the slot floor.

“Cashless has been around in the industry for decades with TITO,” comments Jacob Lanning, senior director of business development, payments for IGT. “That essentially is a system to transfer funds from machine to machine. The differentiator is that this next generation of cashless technologies is providing the ability to access external funds in a self-service manner.”

He notes that lots of casino guests are accustomed to using an ATM and inserting the cash to play for TITO tickets, or can go to the cage to tap any number of funding methods. “But all of those take either an interaction with technology to get cash or an interaction with a human to do some sort of a transaction at a cage,” Lanning says. “This generation of cashless really is about how we can deliver external funding while the patron is on the casino floor, in a way that doesn’t require them to engage with a staff member or stand in line or wait.”

While there has been much discussion on cashless gaming solutions for years, the real movement forward was jolted by Covid-19. Well before the pandemic, casinos were looking for ways to attract a younger demographic, and cash-free payment was always in the discussion. The pandemic, though, sped up the process.

“One of the things the pandemic did, frankly, is that younger demographics started to come in,” comments Todd George, executive vice president, operations for Penn Entertainment. “And that was a problem we were all trying to solve pre-pandemic, but as these generations churn and newer folks are coming in, I think (cashless payment) almost starts to become an expectation.”

“The pandemic challenged me and the team to find ways to accelerate things that were going to make people more comfortable from a business perspective, considering what was going on in the world,” adds Primus. “We worked really closely with the state of Pennsylvania for our initial launch, and they were fantastic partners. We launched in Pennsylvania, in our four properties there, in the summer of 2021, so cashless has been running in Pennsylvania for two and a half years.”

The cashless solution being used by Penn is a model of what is available from many of the top suppliers in the space. It is a combination of technology from Everi Holdings, the fintech company that already was well-known for its payment ecosystem, and the casino management system and individual slot communication provided by Acres Manufacturing.

Everi provides the payment gateway that allows players to connect to any of a variety of external funding sources, including bank accounts, debit cards, PayPal, Venmo, ApplePay, and even credit cards where regulations allow. Cash at retail stores via PayNearMe, access to gift card value, and emerging sources such as FedNow are all part of the funding mix along with added methods that send funds back to your bank when you are done.

“We provide a very simple way to access funds in a cashless way at casinos today via our kiosks and at our table solutions,” says Victor Newsom, senior vice president of product management, payments solutions for Everi. The solutions include CashClub Wallet for the slots, CashClub Concierge at table games and CXC kiosks where players can use a debit card to get a TITO ticket and use it anywhere that TITO tickets are accepted across the floor.

“Players can also return that TITO ticket back to their debit cards to complete a fully cashless experience without signing up for an account,” says Newsom. “Everi offers fully integrated, best-in-class wallet solutions that are white-labeled and able to fit anywhere operators or venues need them, whether it’s a webpage or through a mobile app. Certainly we can provide a wallet, but it’s not required for a cashless experience. However, a wallet will integrate into all the desired systems and provide a seamless, resort-level guest experience.

“At Everi, we look at how we can help an operator deploy solutions without mandating massive investments in capital, compromising their vison, or limiting growth potential. We have over 60 different payment transaction use cases that we support today with our people, licenses, and technology, which puts Everi in a very unique position. We offer a multitude of partnership opportunities for the CMS and non-CMS solution providers, retail providers, third parties—we’ll do those integrations.”

Acres’ Foundation casino management system is the other main piece to Penn’s cashless solution. Noah Acres, a principal of Acres Manufacturing, says the Acres technology simplifies the movement of credits from funding sources directly to each machine or table game.

“Our Cashless Casino solution offers a best-in-class player experience without requiring casinos to undertake expensive systems upgrades,” Acres says. “Cashless Casino works by interfacing the wallet solution of the casino’s choice to any slot machine or table game, and doesn’t require the dreaded ‘cashless wagering account’ that makes the cashless experience painful for so many. Instead, funds are moved from the wallet provider’s custody directly to the game, preventing casinos from assuming liability of player deposits.”

Acres technology provides the conduit between the wallet and the slot machine. “The whole premise is that casinos are enabled to select the best-of-breed solution that fits their property’s unique needs,” Acres says. “Cashless Casino is the fastest, most convenient way to go cashless because it’s system-agnostic, pairs with any wallet provider and has all the required reporting, dispute resolution and problem gaming features baked in. We can bring a casino live on cashless within about 100 days.”

“The Everi wallet talks directly to the Acres Foundation technology,” says Penn’s Primus. “We invested over the past several years significantly with Acres, to allow us to talk to the machine in a safe, secure way and still fulfill all regulatory reporting requirements.”

All-In-One

The IGT solution—called Resort Wallet with IGTPay—offers both access to external funding mechanisms and the wallet technology within its IGT Advantage casino management system.

“What’s really unique and interesting about IGT’s solution is our IGTPay payment gateway,” says Lanning. “What that allows casinos to do is provide their players with access to a number of different payment methods. We have over 50 payment partners and methods that we’ve integrated through IGTPay.

“This gives players access to credit card or debit card processing using Worldpay, or we offer integrations into other bank transfer method methods like VIP Preferred from Pavilion Payments. Or integrations into e-wallets, and those e-wallets can be anything from gaming-specific like OKTO or Sightline to non-gaming specific and more general broad consumer-based like PayPal and Venmo.”

Station Casinos uses the IGT Advantage system to enable cashless e-wallet functions at slots and tables. “Our slot system is the IGT system, so cashless was an add-on to our current platform,” comments Tom Mikulich, senior vice president of innovation for Station Casinos. “IGT is also very experienced with resort wallets, online gaming wallets, payment processors (and similar technologies).”

For slots, Station has developed the STN Cash e-wallet. “The STN Cash wallet can be used at all Station Casinos properties, and is integrated into our new STN Mobile app,” Mikulich says.

“Our customers download our STN Mobile app. Then, they enroll in STN Cash at the cage to enable the wallet functionality. From there the customer can fill up their wallet through one of the payment processors located within the app, connect to any slot machine, and move the money from the wallet to the credit meter to begin playing.”

At the tables, Station offers cashless play through a program called PlayOn. “It allows players to insert a debit card in a hand-held device at one of our tables to purchase chips and begin playing,” says Mikulich.

IGT’s Lanning comments that the company also offers a new table cashless solution called Table Manager. “It is very simple and easy to use,” he says. “The player sits down and provides their player card, and the dealer or supervisor opens a rating, and there’s a button there that says ‘cashless.’ Players have access to their full cashless account, and they can do a withdrawal right there at the table. All of it can be monitored and secure. The system’s ready to go, and we’re working on getting our first customer live.”

Partners and Aggregators

IGT’s cashless technologies may be part of the IGT Advantage CMS, but it integrates with a variety of aggregator partners that work with various casinos.

“We provide access to more payment methods—we integrate with Sightline, we integrate with OKTO,” says Lanning. “Those are both e-wallet products that have value propositions that some casinos find desirable. If the casino wants a specific payment service provider, we can accommodate. We have seen that the more payment options that you allow players to have, the more likely it is to drive greater adoption.

“Having just a single wallet provider is ultimately going to constrict the type of transactions that can be done. If you only do bank transfers, for example, you’re going to leave out a big chunk of the market that want to use cards. We believe we provide an advantage, because we provide operators with choice that they can then give to their players. And ultimately, the players will vote with their wallets.”

Among the most popular payment providers partnering in solutions provided by companies like Everi and IGT is Pavilion Payments, formerly Global Payments.

“Our cashless offering, VIP Mobility, allows patrons to make all the transactions they need on the casino floor on their mobile device,” says Pavilion Payments CEO Christopher Justice. “Patrons scan a QR code on their favorite slot or table game on the casino floor to fund their play and have the option to connect to our industry-standard e-check network, VIP Preferred.

“VIP Preferred allows patrons to connect to more than 400 in-person and online gaming institutions. VIP Preferred features some of the highest spending limits in the industry and provides unparalleled convenience. VIP Mobility users can also pay for non-gaming services on their mobile device, at bars, restaurants and other resort amenities. We pride ourselves on our vertically integrated suite of solutions for any casino’s payments needs, including cashless technology.”

Sightline Payments is another popular casino partner providing a cashless solution. Sightline’s flagship product, Sightline Pay, is deployed across the sports betting, lottery, horse racing, and online and brick-and-mortar casino markets.

“It enables players to use a single digital payment method across all gaming channels and throughout the entire resort,” says Dakota Pate, Sightline’s director of marketing. “Sightline Pay operates seamlessly because it integrates with casino gaming systems, including slots and tables. Patrons can load funds onto a digital wallet linked to their player account, and then use their smartphones or electronic devices to make payments and withdrawals directly at the gaming machines.

“This offers several benefits, including enhanced convenience, reduced wait times, and increased security compared to traditional cash transactions. Unlike other technologies, our solution provides a comprehensive and user-friendly experience for both operators and patrons.”

Yet another cashless play method is offered by Marker Trax, which has developed a cashless slot marker system called Moolah Play. “Moolah Play by Marker Trax brings the entire casino credit process—from application to use to repayment—into the digital arena,” says Anamarie Ellis, marketing executive for Marker Trax and vice president of operations for Ellis Island Casino in Las Vegas, where the system was developed.

“Players applying for a credit line simply answer a few questions via the mobile app, and within minutes, their application is reviewed, and a credit decision issued,” Ellis explains. “If approved, they can begin playing their favorite games. Compared to the traditional credit process, which can include arduous paper forms and an approval process that can take weeks, Moolah Play by Marker Trax is revolutionary.”

Are Customers Using It?

Many have compared the coming of cashless payment solutions to the adoption some two decades ago of ticket-in/ticket-out technology on the slots. However, there is one huge difference with the e-wallet and external funding systems now emerging: With TITO, players didn’t have a choice. The coin mechanisms simply disappeared from the machines.

As more casinos deploy cashless solutions, all eyes turn toward the players, who ultimately will determine how quickly the adoption of cashless proceeds—as IGT’s Lanning says, by voting with their e-wallets.

For Penn, adoption of the cashless/e-wallet option is progressing quickly. “We’ve seen really solid adoption in what our goal was when we picked Pennsylvania and then we started to go out through in Ohio and working through the Midwest,” says George. “Our goal was to see greater adoption rates with each one, learn with each iteration, get to a better place.”

George adds that adoption of cashless has been spread across all demographics. “We automatically assume the younger demographics would adopt it more quickly in a higher percentage, but it’s been similar across all age segments,” he says. “Part of that is through marketing efforts; part of it is through a real desire. When we started to look at the guest journey and the guest experience, for that higher-end consumer who is putting more money through a slot machine, this is so much easier for them than dealing with the bill validator and the ATM and the cage, or bringing large amounts of cash into the casino with them.”

“We see strong adoption of cashless,” agrees Acres, “and also note that the players who use cashless funding typically become cashless-only players. There has been a lot of talk about poor cashless experiences driving low adoption, but I would challenge anyone to go to (an Acres) Cashless Casino property to try for themselves. The solution is fast, reliable and convenient, and players love it.”

Station’s Mikulich reports similar strong adoption of the STN Cash system. “Each month our user base grows as our customer base adopts the technology and becomes more familiar with our STN Mobile app,” he says. “Non-cash payment is used in almost every product or service today, so the extension into the casino environment is imminent.”

“These technologies, especially the external funding pieces of the technology, are really focused on those known players who come into these casinos,” says Lanning at IGT. “And that’s who we recommend that our casino partners focus on. And when they do that, we’ve seen the technologies have been widely adopted.”

“It is a journey, but I also think we need to look at expectations,” adds Everi’s Newsom. “Some of the most ‘successful’ cashless solutions in America have capped out below 40 percent adoption, with the only cashless deployments beyond that mostly in transit as a forced or mandatory cashless model. So, do we have a long way to go to 40 percent? Or is the question, ‘Do we ever expect 100 percent?’

“For those who’ve taken the omnichannel approach and made it convenient for their patrons to opt in, giving them choices for where they engage, we tend to see very strong adoption rates where there’s been that deep investment by the operator. That includes marketing and messaging by the operator, as well as a focus on reducing friction through all the parties involved.”

Looking Ahead

As the general demographics skew younger, cashless adoption is bound to accelerate. “It’s funny when you start seeing some of the 21-to-25-year-olds and their unfamiliarity with ATM machines, and especially the fees associated with them,” comments George at Penn Entertainment. “There’s an expectation that you’ll have this cashless offering.”

One of the big accelerators early on will occur when cashless solutions take hold in Nevada, which is just on the cusp of getting the proper regulations in place. “Once Nevada deploys it, and you start getting the visitation out there experiencing it, I think it could really spread quickly,” George says.

Also vital to the spread of cashless adoption will be how the suppliers accomplish it—and the combinations of technology the operators ultimately embrace. “The more that competitors do this—whatever their abilities are—it will become a norm,” says Penn’s Primus. “And there’s an investment that goes behind it, of course, but there’s also a return if it’s done the right way. Everything we do, we design it from the customer experience. That’s why we have great product and engineering people.

“We’re focusing on how we eliminate lines. How do we eliminate people having to go to an ATM? How do we allow our team members at the properties to focus on delivering better experiences versus some of those other things that are much more transactional in nature? And I think when people see the benefits everybody gets out of it, their team members as well as their customers, I do think there’ll be a tipping point and people will start to migrate pretty rapidly to cashless play, and it’s going to become an expectation.”

“I do see a growing adoption over time, especially as we age out certain segments, where you will see more personalized and embedded payment methods dominate,” says Everi’s Newsom. “The real key is going to be having the right partners to make these embedded and invisible payment methods a part of the valued patron journey.”

Everi, in fact, is getting ready to deploy another potential funding mechanism for cashless play—cryptocurrencies. “We’ve got a couple of initiatives around facilitating players to be able to utilize their crypto assets and convert them to fiat so that they can enjoy their gaming experience,” says Darren

Simmons, executive vice president and fintech business leader at Everi.

“The one we call Bit-n-Line is effectively a funds guarantee model for the operator. We would introduce a player to a third-party partner, and in that arrangement, they will provide and put up their crypto asset. And in return, this third party will provide them with a guaranteed funds model that goes directly to the casino operator, and they hold that asset. They don’t liquidate the asset, they just hold the asset, and fund some portion of that asset value.”

Using this technology, the operator gets the benefit of guaranteed settlement of funds without having to deal directly with the crypto assets themselves. According to Simmons, Everi has several Nevada operators interested in the solution, and there is international interest as well.

It will provide another tool in the potential cashless arsenal, and operators ultimately will decide on the look of that arsenal. “The overarching theme here is choice,” says Leighton Webb, vice president of iGaming and sports betting at solution provider PayNearMe. “In my opinion, it’s important to provide customers with the payment methods they want—whether it’s cards, cash or an ATM. PayNearMe offers our clients a flexible and scalable platform that allows them to adjust to what their customers want.”

Everi’s Newsom notes that as the cashless and e-wallet solutions chosen by casinos evolve, the suppliers that serve them will evolve as well. “You’ll see some consolidation, mergers and even new entrants,” he says. “We’ll soon see an acceleration of cashless, especially since we’ve made a lot of first-mover type activity and, within many jurisdictions, it will be a lot easier for the ones that come after us to go into those jurisdictions.”

Penn’s George adds that the value of playing without cash is generating a lot of word-of-mouth among players, and even media attention in some markets.

“We rolled this out in Missouri in the St. Louis market, and we have two properties there,” he says. “The media picked up on this and really ran an amazing story about how this is the future of gaming, and how this is improving the safety because you don’t have to carry the money with you. And that led to more curiosity and more people coming in and asking about it. It’s a conversation-starter, and it’s been great.”

“I do think we have a long way to go, and cash isn’t going anywhere,” says Everi’s Newsom. “Even in places where you’ve seen good cashless adoption, you still see the people that want some cash in their pockets go get money from the ATM. Cashless is really about the overall experience, and where ‘cashless’ adds value and convenience.”

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.