Fredo Corleone was right.
The famed Godfather movie character, who screeched for respect because he was “S M A R T!,” could inspire the same level of urgency in gaming today.
It’s never been more important to be “smart” maneuvering new products through a shifting regulatory landscape.
Merchants acknowledge the trend. They shoulder expensive up-front chip-card technology fees to eliminate more costly liability exposure stemming from laws enacted last year.
Casinos brace for stiff upcoming regulations covering ATMs and kiosks. By October, they will be on the hook for fraud if they don’t use chip technology. The operators need to be protected, yet tap the income potential encouraged by massive funds accessibility to customers.
No one doubts the need for security, especially in light of data breaches at Target and elsewhere. EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) technology makes payments less susceptible to fraud, since, unlike traditional magnetic stripe cards, the chip’s security code changes with every purchase. It is more difficult to counterfeit.
Yet intelligent business entails more than embedding a chip inside a card, or merging that card with a compliant kiosk. It means planting the convenience of a chip card, whether it’s a gift, loyalty or prepaid version, inside the scope of a new revenue stream. These cards let operators serve online players, extend shopping privileges beyond their own stores and target their market.
It’s a worthwhile pursuit for vendors, and casinos. The global market for smart cards is projected to reach $17 billion by 2023, with Asian customers, both gaming and non-gaming, leading the way. What if the American gambling world embraced its operation? That number could skyrocket. Consumers love the convenience of plastic, and if the multibillion-dollar gaming world becomes more secure, they can bring credit card-style indulgence to all forms of it.
Merging smart cards and holders has been Omer Sattar’s dominant theme for several years. Representing Las Vegas-based Sightline Payments, the high-octane entrepreneur forged powerful friendships in the casino, credit card and banking realms two years ago.
He brought Borgata, Discover and Vantiv together. The combination merged credit card and payment connection strength with Sightline’s Loyalty Plus Card, enabling casinos to reward patrons both in their property and at nearby stores.
Sattar believes he has scored again in Nevada, with the Play+ system being auditioned in sports books. Sattar says the product gained recent deployment in Nevada because a state bank issued a card for in-state residents. Citing proprietary concerns, Sattar does not wish to name the bank until the program develops further. That outfit becomes the underwriter in this process, and has likely hedged its leap of faith by dealing with familiar in-state residents.
This is a move encouraged by recent developments. The Nevada Gaming Control Board clarified its position on prepaid cards in 2014. It allows them. The governing body does not allow smart cards yet, but will be approached before year’s end about doing so. For now, a prepaid card that has most of the flexibility of a credit card, but presumably can’t be overdrawn, will do.
Amid this gray area between smart cards and prepaid, reloadable units, Sattar pursues a fertile market. Nevada has nearly 200 sports books, which handle billions of dollars annually. The Super Bowl alone routinely tops $100 million. March Madness, the World Series, college and pro football and the Indy 500 augment the high betting totals.
Nevada books, through casinos, can tap these players who wager from mobile devices. Casinos can also target the gamblers, provide tier points for dollars bet, offer loyalty rewards and stay-and-play packages.
Operators observe a likely gain with this technology. The advance becomes seismic should casinos ever obtain a bigger share of the multibillion-dollar illegal wagering pot in America each year.
It would be logical for a vendor to avoid the sports-book market until smart-card rules were finalized. Yet that would open further competition. Sattar says now is the time to act.
“Generically, this product is named Play+,” says Sattar, the co-founder and executive vice president of strategic initiatives of Sightline. “Customers use the Play+ name in conjunction with their own branding. For example, at Mohegan Sun, the program is called Momentum Play+, with Momentum being the name of the Mohegan loyalty program. I can tell you this: similar iterations of this product are soon to hit the industry—and state of Nevada—in full force.”
GGB readers are familiar with the Loyalty Card Plus Prepaid, which helped launch Play+. It was created by Sightline Payments, in collaboration with Vantiv and Discover, to provide a prepaid card for the gaming industry’s nearly 40 million casino loyalty cardholders.
Gaming cardholders can transfer funds in real time, utilizing Sightline’s proprietary closed-loop SPAN network, to and from accounts for use at slots, table games, race and sports books, social gaming sites and iGaming sites, subject to jurisdictional approval.
Using the open-loop, general-purpose reloadable prepaid card, which runs on the Discover network, cardholders can make cash withdrawals (including ATM) or purchases within or outside the casino property for travel, dining, hotel and other transactions where Discover is accepted.
Cardholders can fund their prepaid account online, through their mobile phone or by loading funds at the casino with cash, jackpot payouts and methods like TITO tickets.
The prepaid method also can be used at NRT kiosks to print slot tickets or redeem them to place value back on the card. They can be utilized for chip purchase or redemption at table games or in the online realm via an API connecting the iGaming mobile site to the prepaid card account, providing the highest approval rates for patrons, according to Sattar.
And now comes Play+.
“This is an extension of the Loyalty Plus card, which is actually the mechanism that is used to move money in and out of this account,” Sattar explains. “The gaming operator rewards you for using this product, it is FDIC-insured and it is readily protected. Most importantly, the customer has access to their money at almost any point of the sale, online in any part of the country or at any ATM in the country.”
For all of their interactions, customers are ultimately going to get rewarded by the gaming operator.
“We know, by talking to our payments solutions partners at Vantiv Entertainment Solutions, that the preferences of consumers are changing,” he adds. “We know that using cash can be difficult. You normally have to get in your car, go to the casino, go to the sports book, deposit the cash in order to play the wager and then place the wager. That’s a lot of effort for a bet. Or now, you could be sitting on your couch and place a wager. So it’s really about creating this custom experience for gaming.”
How does it work? One must simply “app”ly him or herself.
“This gives you the ability to use a mobile or electronic device—iPad, Android, iPhone or anything in between—sitting effectively anywhere to fund and withdraw from your sports wagering account,” Sattar contends.
“For the first time, you physically go in and provide your ID to the sports book, and open a wagering account,” he adds. “You can sign up for your Play+ account at the casino as well, if you don’t want to do it online or on mobile. If you want to do it on mobile, you actually download the casino’s wagering app, and from right within the app you can enroll for your Play+ account. It’s a clean and simple experience for the patron. After that, you’re ready to go.”
Sattar says the app is tied to the back end of the race and sports system, and the account is credited in real time. Any credit or debit card registered to one’s address can be used to fund this account. Other deposit methods include setting up an ACH from a bank account or using cash/chips/TITO tickets at the casino cage.
Players can effectively replicate what’s happening at the sports book in a mobile environment. Every line, bet made and payout is recorded, and all of that can be taken and streamlined into a mobile platform.
“Think about it like a football field, but full of data,” he says. “You put it all into a pipe and you feed it into someone’s cellphone and, boom, you’re watching that football game.
“So, if you’re sitting at home right now, you could launch your app, you could see how much money you have and you could see all the different sports lines that are going on,” Sattar indicates. “You can look at your account balance and see if you have enough money or not. If you don’t have any money, you could use a debit or credit card and fund it in real time. You could take all of those funding balances or part of them, and can wager what you want to play. That bet is recorded at the casino operator’s sports book, but it’s all happening in real time. If the game ends and you win that wager, money can come back to you in real time. If you lose the wager, you get an update from your sports book.”
Casino operators stand to benefit. Sports wagering joins other games in the realm of online accessibility. Substantial sports-book money has likely been lost over the years because patrons won’t fight massive lines. Sports books, on a college football Saturday or pro football Sunday, are chaotic. Customers must arrive an hour or so before kickoff just to obtain a seat. Not to mention their battle with the congested Las Vegas Strip.
In the mobile age, many won’t bother.
“This equates to more efficiency at the casino cage or the race and sports book,” Sattar contends. “It means reduced lines, especially on big betting days, like the Super Bowl or Indy 500. Also, when any casino offers an enhanced point of interaction for patrons, over time it fosters greater loyalty. Long term, we also expect this technology to reduce expenses for the casino because it streamlines the race and sports book process.”
Enhancing patron convenience while reducing brick-and-mortar congestion really is smart. Sports books themselves represent a visual paradise for serious gamblers. Operators who can blend convenience with gaming’s quick pace can thrive. William Hill sports books, for example, offer consistent lines for patrons and the in-game phenomenon. Odds of a game change after each score in football.
Everi has both a security and innovation platform.
In March, the Las Vegas company said it was the first in the casino industry to offer an EMV-chip signature option for an ATM device. It is fully end-to-end EMV-compliant with all its financial transaction devices, platforms and systems used at hundreds of casino properties across the U.S.
Everi was well ahead of the October compliance deadline. It’s an accomplishment gaming operators expect from their vendors. Casinos don’t want to worry about EMV compliance at all.
Everi provides video and mechanical reel gaming content and technology solutions, integrated gaming payments solutions and compliance and efficiency software. Its service range includes ATMs, fully integrated kiosks, products that improve credit decision-making, compliance and data solutions, and online payment processing for operators who offer intrastate, internet-based gaming and lottery activities.
Within its realm lies the Stored Value Card now in the field.
The card allows casinos to align their current marketing and loyalty programs with Everi’s Stored Value Card (SVC) for gift and reloadable card programs.
Everi’s SVC allows casino operators to utilize gift, reloadable and promotional cards to drive customer behavior and develop additional revenue streams. With control of when cards can be used, casinos can capture new revenue from customers and merchants by sending promotional dollars to their establishments. Casinos can also customize their cards with artwork and card names unique to the property.
Here again, in the smart-card realm, the company knows its nuance. Under federal guidelines, gift cards are not reloadable but the reloadable open loop and RAN cards are, Everi officials say. Player loyalty cards are loaded by the property and work like rebate cards—with associated restrictions on funds usage such as location or time.
Everi supports the full range of stored value cards (gift, reloadable, player loyalty, open loop and restricted network/RAN) and integrates its card and wallet solutions. In the RAN gift card, consumers purchase (or are given) a card that works at any MasterCard-accepting merchant the property wants to include. This could be property only, extend to the mall across the street, or include merchants in the players’ home area.
The casino usually purchases cards in batches and can, for some programs, pre-load the cards. Customers can re-load them.
And so it goes. Besides Sightline and Everi, other establishments are proactive with forthcoming regulations. Companies like Vantiv continually educate regulators to ease security concerns. Vendors like DiTronics have been closing in on EMV compliance, and will be ready for the October bell.
Vendors and operators know the value of being smart. And the reward of being genius.