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Going Cashless

As casinos seek to provide cashless, contactless payment options, they have a wealth of system and technology choices

Going Cashless

As modern consumers, we all take cashless and contactless transactions for granted. We swipe a card or tap a smartphone to pay for our coffee, we use our phones for Uber, we use Venmo to give people money. Cash has taken on a distinctly diminished role in our daily transactions.

Except, until recently, on the casino floor. Casinos have been one of the last bastions of the cash transaction. Cash has remained part of the casino mystique, even as technology providers from slot system suppliers to fintech companies have for years offered various ways operators can remove cash—and the high cost of handling it—from their gaming floors, or at least reduce it.

The idea of a cashless casino, of course, is nothing new. It was the 1990s when New York’s Turning Stone Casino first converted into a totally cash-free floor, with deposits at the cage funding play on a mag-stripe card. Over the past five years as technology has advanced, a wide range of vendors have marketed deposit systems, digital wallets and other technology to enable cashless play.

Then 2020 happened, and the need to offer players an option to handling the filthy lucre became urgent. Now, operators are examining their options for enabling cash-free payment on the gaming floor.

And those options are many. Over the past year, several partnerships have been announced to combine technologies into a complete end-to-end cashless gaming experience. Strict payment technology companies like Sightline, Global Payments and others, technology companies like Acres Manufacturing, and the four main slot manufacturers with proprietary casino management systems are partnering to provide operators with cashless technology.

The reason there are so many partnerships is that the process of providing cashless play on the floor is one that requires multiple actions, to effect withdrawal of external funds without a requirement to physically deposit cash at a casino cage. On one end, a system must be able to interact with financial institutions that are the source of funding. The source must be verified, the funds must electronically transfer into the casino’s financial ecosystem, and they must be transferred to the player’s slot machine in the form of credits. There are vendors that specialize in technology to achieve each of these aims.

Add in the casino management systems, by which operators store all machine-related data, and you have another point of interaction in the ecosystem.

“The payments industry is basically a bunch of moving parts,” comments Craig Libson, CEO of Flexia Payments, which specializes in the first leg of the cashless journey. “What we’ve built is the bridge between the casino management systems, both on the online gaming and the land-based side, with the financial networks.

“That connection is critical, because the first thing you have to have is a bank willing to issue accounts. And our accounts happen to be Mastercard accounts. We’re the only ones in this industry that are majority-owned by an FDIC-regulated bank, which gives us the stable banking relationships some of the other payment companies don’t have.”

There are, of course, other suppliers that provide the link to the financial networks, such as Everi Holdings, whose fintech arm has provided that link through its legacy companies for decades. But the other end of the cash journey—placing credits on the customer’s game—is just as vital. And that leg invariably goes through one of two SAS ports on the back of every slot machine.

“The SAS ports are where all the data comes from,” explains Noah Acres, chief operating officer of Acres Manufacturing. “If you’re plugged into the SAS port, you get all the data from the slot machine, and within SAS are also commands to change the credit meter balance on the game. Only one SAS sport has the the ability to change the credit meter balance. That SAS port is currently occupied by the legacy casino management system. Therefore, any time you want to add to the game script, you have to interface with the CMS.

“If you operate a casino and use a CMS—whether it be Aristocrat, IGT, Konami or SG—you cannot interface to the game but through that CMS. Historically, the interfaces to the payment networks have not been available.”

Acres’ Foundation casino management system provides a proprietary pathway to that credit meter, he says. “We connect directly the machine’s primary SAS port and have the ability to change the game’s credit meter on command. We consider ourselves the last piece of pipe that connects to the game. Our system can interface to any payment processor—Sightline, Everi, Marker Trax, Global Payments, etc.—and move money from the wallet to the game. We can even support multiple payment processors simultaneously.”

In September, Acres Manufacturing launched the Acres Wallet, a single-interface solution that combines the cashless function with data gleaned from the loyalty function of the Foundation system. “In addition to a cash balance, the Acres Wallet can also hold all the player’s points, free play, updated line of credit or any other store of value relative to the gaming experience,” Acres says. “The Acres Wallet provides a thrilling peripheral experience during live play. Because the wallet is able to update in real time with every spin of the slot machine, points and credit meter balances are updated in real time. The casino can send in-app messages to the player relative to their play, and can even bonus players within the Acres Wallet.

“In addition to cashless, our wallet provides an entire experience. Real-time data allows in-app marketing and even features bonuses that can be linked to any game in the house.”

CMS Partners

Acres Foundation reports any SAS meter change in real time. In September, Acres Manufacturing launched the Acres Wallet, a single-interface solution that combines the cashless function with data gleaned from the loyalty function of the Foundation system.

Acres has partnered with several companies over the past year in providing cashless services, including Everi. “In the case of Everi’s CashClub Wallet, a customer will move money from their banking system into Everi’s wallet,” Acres says. “When a player tells Everi’s CashClub Wallet to send $100 to their favorite slot machine, CashClub and Foundation communicate with one another to conduct the transaction. Everi tells Foundation to add $100 to the player’s credit meter, and Foundation does so instantly.”

CashClub Wallet is being rolled out by Penn National Gaming as the cashless solution for its casinos across the country.

The technology is steeped in the tradition of Everi’s legacy companies, from Central Credit check-cashing services to the former Global Cash Access, the leading ATM supplier to casinos. “The CashClub Wallet is actually connected to external funding sources for the patron and a patron profile is created,” says Darren Simmons, Everi’s executive vice president and fintech business leader. “We create a system and a platform for patrons to be able to access those external funding methods through the banking system, and that can mean through card associations like the Visas and Mastercards of the world, as well as ACH-type transactions. That’s the piece that Everi has invested in and built an infrastructure around.”

Everi’s CashClub Wallet module also is now offered as part of the Aristocrat Gaming CMS, Oasis 360.

“We’ve got a really good relationship with Aristocrat,” says Simmons. “They were great to work with in terms of our integration and the development partnership, and we continued to look at how we can improve what that experience is like for the operator and specifically for their guests, because the guest experience is what’s going to win the day for the success of this technology.”

“Aristocrat’s Customer Experience Solutions (CXS) division offers Digital Wallet as a contactless payment experience for guests,” says Jared Mayberry, senior vice president of customer experience solutions at Aristocrat. “This solution allows them to use their smartphones to transfer cash to and from EGMs and tables while paying for restaurant meals, show tickets and/or hotel rooms. To gain access, a player downloads the operator’s mobile app, links their membership, and adds money to the digital wallet for use across the resort.”

Mayberry adds that since Digital Wallet operates through a mobile app, it can be used off-property as well. “The benefit of the Aristocrat Digital Wallet solution is that it allows operators to offer the same experience for a player whether they are at home, at the resort, or on the gaming floor. Operators who choose Aristocrat’s solution can take the entire package or only the modules that they need to complete their guest’s mobile experience.”

Aristocrat has most recently extended its cashless solution to table games in partnership with Boyd Gaming. In mid-October, the two companies announced the launch in Nevada of the Boyd Pay Wallet, a cashless payment solution for table games powered by Aristocrat’s Digital Wallet technology. The field trial is the latest enhancement to Boyd Gaming’s cashless technology solution.

 Boyd Pay Wallet will be integrated into Boyd Gaming’s B Connected app, allowing players to use their mobile device to fund table game wagers without withdrawing cash from an ATM or redeeming tickets and chips at the cage.

Another CMS supplier that has forged partnerships with payment companies is Konami Gaming. The supplier’s popular Synkros casino management system has been used as the basis for cashless solutions for several casino clients.

Konami’s Synkros cashless wagering module, called Money Klip, was first introduced to market seven years ago

The Synkros cashless wagering module, called Money Klip, was first introduced to market seven years ago. “Konami has continued to actively enhance and innovate its integrated cashless technology,” says Tom Soukup, senior vice president and chief systems product officer for Konami. “We began by successfully introducing cashless technology with cruise industry operators, and we’ve continued to advance the technology from there, providing a robust integration layer for cashless transfers to/from financial payment processors, resort-wide player mobile applications and extending cashless wagering and TITO support to table games.”

To effect seamless interoperability, Synkros provides an easy-to-use Synkros Integration Layer (SIL) to facilitate fast integration with existing third-party kiosk and/or financial payment processors to build a frictionless cashless player experience.

“In many senses, Konami is Switzerland,” Soukup says. “We do not force an operator to only use a specific kiosk or financial payment processor vendor like some of our competitors.

“The cashless module is fully integrated into Synkros cage, slot and table game accounting and reporting. Regarding the EGM, cashless is support in addition to ticketing and player tracking/slot accounting using a single slot machine interface board (SMIB). There is no need to purchase/install additional in-machine hardware and/or run another network on the slot floor.”

Another slot and system supplier regularly engaging in partnerships to provide cashless solutions to customers is Scientific Games Corporation, which includes its Unified Wallet product as part of its casino management systems. Unified Wallet enables cashless solutions for slots or tables. The Unified Wallet package allows players to link their smartphones to credit or debit accounts, and allows them to use their phones to tap into the loyalty program, as well as “tapping” credits to the meter on slots.

Most recently, SG partnered with Sightline Payments to implement Sightline’s Play+ mobile payment solution at Caesars Entertainment properties, marketed as “Caesars Entertainment Play+.”

Guest funds can be easily and instantly loaded through Sightline’s specialized proprietary network, and deposits of winnings could be made instantly available to guests on their Caesars Entertainment Play+ prepaid card.

Payment Partners

Global Payments VIP Mobility cashless system has been a preferred solution in Indian Country, most recently being applied at California’s Viejas Casino and Oklahoma’s Downstream Casino Resort

Sightline’s Play+ system is being hailed as a success at Caesars. Sightline is one of several pure payment technology companies currently benefiting from the surge in demand for cashless solutions.

“Play+ is the premier cashless funding source for iGaming, mobile sports, on-premise slots, table games, sports betting, horse racing and lottery gaming,” says Sightline Co-CEO Joseph Pappano. “Play+ is also a robust and innovative fintech platform that allows for transactions outside of gaming on point-of-sale and ATMs worldwide via the physical Discover prepaid card that each patron receives upon enrollment in Play+.

“Most importantly, Play+ allows for immediate cash-out functionality from the patron’s gaming/wagering account whether physically or on a sports/iGaming platform. No other cashless solution can replicate this functionality like Play+… Because of our patented SPAN network, funds transfer is bi-directional. The player can cash out from digital wallet to their Play+ account, which gives them access to their funds immediately.”

Last month, Sightline partnered with Mastercard, Inc. to release the Play+ Mastercard system at Resorts World Las Vegas. The Play+ Mastercard system uses what is termed tokenization technology. It replaces a physical card number with a unique token that can only be used by the merchant that requested it, and which is said to provide additional security to cardholders.

Sightline’s Play+ system is part of Resorts World’s pioneering system of cashless payment availability throughout the resort.

“The foundation of Play+ is to provide customers with a safe, secure and responsible payments experience to fund their gaming and entertainment,” said Pappano in a press release. “As consumers increasingly seek digital-first experiences, we’re pleased to partner with Sightline to enable a fully digital engagement for the patrons at Resorts World Las Vegas,” added Chiro Aikat, executive vice president of products and innovation for Mastercard in North America.

Another pure payment/fintech company that has been a leading partner in providing cashless solutions is Atlanta-based Global Payments Gaming Solutions. The company’s VIP Mobility cashless system has been a preferred solution in Indian Country, most recently being applied at California’s Viejas Casino and Oklahoma’s Downstream Casino Resort.

“VIP Mobility is the industry’s first mobile solution enabling true cashless gaming from funding through cash-out,” says Global Payments President Chris Justice. “VIP Mobility was designed to solve a number of problems for all stakeholders, including the operator, the payment network, the regulator, and most importantly, the consumer.

“For patrons, a common pain point in gaming is waiting in line at the ATM or cage to fund their play. VIP Mobility enables patrons to skip the line and access funds directly from their phone. Patrons can create digital TITO tickets on their mobile device by scanning an existing voucher or using their VIP Preferred e-check account. Patrons can then pair their mobile device to any slot or table game by scanning a QR code to fund their play.”

He adds that players can reload winnings to their phone after play, and can use the system at different casinos using VIP Mobility after a single registration.

“Unlike other cashless solutions, VIP Mobility does not require additional technology certifications on the floor, creating an effortless transition to cashless gaming,” Justice says. “It is the only solution of its kind to bring a modern approach to gaming. By harnessing the flexibility and ease of Global Payments’ groundbreaking VIP Preferred e-check network, plus functions like eCheck and Choice 4 deferred settlement, patrons can directly transfer funds from their VIP Preferred balance to their favorite game.”

End-to-End Solution

International Game Technology’s Resort Wallet

International Game Technology has offered cashless modules for years as part of its IGT Advantage casino management system. This fall, it has brought all those elements together in Resort Wallet with IGTPay, which the company calls the industry’s only fully integrated turnkey cashless solution.

“We are in fact the only casino management system in the industry that has a fully integrated and built-in payment gateway,” said Nick Khin, IGT senior vice president and chief operating officer, in a recent interview with GGB. “It really gives the players the ability to transfer money from external sources—from their bank account, credit card, etc.—directly to their player account, without a need to connect to a third-party payment solution.”

According to Jacob Lanning, senior director of business development, payments for IGT, the company has offered cashless solutions as part of its systems business for years. “We’ve had a cashless solution in the marketplace for quite some time,” he says.

“The underlying technology has been around for more than 20 years. A smart-card version of the technology has been used in South Africa and South America. It also was used at Motor City in Detroit quite some time ago.”

The solution there was an on-property wallet/wagering account solution used at the slots. In the past five years, IGT has combined those elements with IGTPay, an external payment gateway, and other technology to form what is now the Resort Wallet solution.

“The core banking portion, IGTPay, was actually developed originally in August of 2012,” Lanning explains. “And it’s been in the domestic U.S. in other forms of regulated gaming since 2018—iGaming and sports betting as well as retail lottery. These components have been in the product mix for quite some time; I really just think that over the past couple of years, operators and regulators in the land-based gaming space have been looking for ways to bring those technologies to bear in land-based casinos.”

Lanning says it has been over the past two years that the complete turnkey cashless solution—Resort Wallet with IGTPay—has been perfected. It is now on field test with what he identifies as “a major corporate customer here in Nevada.” The company also has secured deals with California’s Agua Caliente and Oklahoma’s Indigo Sky casinos, which will employ the solution soon.

The fact that the solution is available only within the Advantage CMS has given an additional selling point to a system that already had a growing footprint.

“The key differentiator is the breadth of data that we have and understanding of the transactions that are going on across the network,” Lanning says. “That allows us to do a few unique things because we’re both the (solution provider) and CMS provider. We see all the slot transactions the customer is doing on the casino floor, and we also see the banking transactions. We can use that in a few different ways to help the casino operator.

“First and foremost is marketing and incenting those types of behaviors that will ultimately drive adoption of these new technologies. For example, in the sports betting world, deposit bonusing with play has been one of the most successful types of bonuses that have driven adoption of mobile sports betting applications. We can leverage the fact that we have data on both sides of that transaction in order to execute bonuses of that nature.”

While Resort Wallet with IGTPay does not require third-party partners to provide the cashless solution, that does not mean IGT partners with no other suppliers in the cashless area. Many of its Advantage system partners have existing contracts with payment vendors; in these cases, IGT integrates the IGTPay module with those other systems.

One of the most recent partnerships is with Sightline. “Many of our customers have already partnered with Sightline, potentially because of sports betting,” Lanning says, “and they want to make sure that the customers that have signed up for Sightline for sports betting purposes can also use those same accounts at the slot machine. That’s one example of an integration that we’ve done in order to make sure that the player experience is what’s focused on.”

Lanning says the IGTPay gateway and its access to banking networks has led to other partnerships. “For example, we have partnered with Global Payments for ACH transactions. We’ve partnered with Worldpay for credit and debit card processing. We’ve partnered with Sightline and PayPal as e-wallet providers. It’s not that there’s no other parties involved; it’s just more of that technology stack is specific to IGT.”

Most payment professionals understand that while the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the move toward cashless capabilities, the transition was going to happen in any case—and cashless options will be a requirement long after the pandemic has subsided.

“If you think of the broader world and how people transact in their everyday lives, the reality is over the last five years, we’ve seen a significant amount of change,” says Lanning. “Whether it’s paying for a cup of coffee or getting your groceries or your haircut, most people are using some form of contactless or cashless transactions in their everyday lives. What we found from our player research is that a significant portion of players have an expectation that this is the type of technology moving forward.”

“Casinos are one of the last remaining cash-dominant businesses in our economy,” says Acres. “I’m not certain if/when cash will completely disappear from casinos, but cashless adaptation will steadily increase in the coming years until it is the dominant form of transacting.”

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.  

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