Cashing in on cashless
by James J. Hodl
Cashing in on Cashless
New technologies enable players to move cash around electronically to play slots, bet on sporting events and even purchase meals
When ticket-in/ticket out (TITO) technology arrived nearly a decade ago, skeptics predicted that hardcore players would never accept it. They would miss the sound of coins pouring from slots after a win and being able to handle their winnings immediately afterwards.
The skeptics, however, were proven wrong, as players saw a distinct advantage in not having to schlep large quantities of actual cash (and especially coins) around casino property. Heartened by this acceptance, casinos and gaming equipment manufacturers are now going beyond TITO as they plunge further into new areas of cashless gaming. Assisting this move are new technologies that enable players to bank funds in electronic accounts from which they can place wagers on the gaming floor, and also help patrons secure additional funds for continued play.
With TITO, scrip in the form of printed bar-coded tickets takes the place of banknotes, coins and tokens on the gaming floor. But newer technologies aim to eliminate all paper substitutes.
New betting options
One new form of cashless gaming being looked at is to transact funds on and off plastic cards, as with the Smart Card Solution under development at Reno-based International Game Technology. There are two versions of this cashless system.
“One is an actual smart card on which all cash values would be stored in a microchip embedded in the card,” said Steve Miller, network systems product director at IGT. “Plug this card into any slot machine and the value is instantly altered with each play, deducting cash value with each loss and adding sums with each win. Values are moved with the card from machine to machine, and the card maintains the value even during power outages.
“The other is a mag-stripe (magnetic stripe) card that functions the same as the smart card version, except that card values are retained in the casino’s central computer,” he said.
With both cards, players can leave a casino with cash still on the card; and when they return weeks or months later, the final cash value from the previous excursion is still there for players to pick up where they left off at their favorite slot machine. Or they can cash out at a teller’s cage, wiping the card clean. Additional funds can be added to both cards through cashier cages or kiosks in mid-visit, Miller explained.
IGT will exhibit its Smart Card Solution at November’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. The system will be rolled out in several African casinos in early 2008, with a U.S. debut expected to follow soon afterward.
Another cashless innovation—account-based wagering—enables players to place bets from linked terminals using funds held in an electronic account created in the casino. One company that has enjoyed success with such a system is The Oneida Indian Nation of New York’s Standing Stone Gaming. Its Oneida and Oneida II Account-Based Wagering Systems were originated by the tribe to accommodate New York State laws that, not long ago, prohibited “Las Vegas-style” slot machines and traditional betting. The system works by having patrons deposit funds with the casino—in the Oneida’s case, its Turning Stone Resort & Casino initially—and their credits on machines they play are credited up and down through the Oneida’s account-based system. The system worked so well that it drew interest from other tribes and casino properties, leading the tribe to develop Standing Stone to market the innovation commercially.
Other forms of account-based wagering are finding their way in play today. One example is the Rapid Bet Live real-time sports wagering system by Las Vegas-based Progressive Gaming International (PGI).
After placing an initial deposit at a casino’s sports book, Rapid Bet Live enables players to place live-action bets on numerous in-game propositions. For instance, during a football game, propositions include betting if a team will score a first down on the next play, or on which team will score next. In a baseball game, will the next batter strike out or hit a home run? In an ice hockey game, how many shots on goal with a team make in the period, or how many goals will be scored per period? Odds for each bet are determined by an on-site expert.
Touching pads on the terminal, the player selects the type and size of the bets. Losses are deducted from the player’s account while winnings are added, which a player can cash out at the end of a session.
After successfully testing Rapid Bet Lives at the Palms Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, PGI is reported to be working with another company to link the real-time accounts-based wagering system to subscribing casinos throughout Nevada, with a single expert setting the odds on all intra-game events for players statewide.
PGI is also among over a dozen companies—including IGT, Shuffle Master and Cantor Gaming—working on wireless wagering technologies that allow patrons to perform account-based wagering to play card games against the house or electronic slot titles through wireless hand-held devices virtually anywhere on casino grounds. After establishing an account, patrons could make their bets at a bar, restaurant or even poolside, a PGI spokesman explained.
Aristocrat Technologies of Las Vegas is looking into both smart cards and advanced accounts-based systems as the next big step toward true cashless gaming. Feedback from casinos and players is being considered in determining which direction Aristocrat will go, said Rich LeBaron, strategic product manager of systems.
Aristocrat already offers an accounts-based system through its Oasis System. The Personal Banker® gaming wagering system enables players to do cash up, cash down and promotional credits down transfers to a slot machine. Credits can be transferred into players cards and converted to cash (based on points values) for use in additional play or for cashing out later, LeBaron said.
Cash access remains an important cog in cashless gaming, and many new systems have become available in recent years to help players get additional funds for continued play as quickly as possible.
Las Vegas-based Global Cash Access (GCA) currently offers several such devices. Among them is the EDITH (Electronic Debit Interactive Terminal Housing) kiosk. Designed to occupy a less than one-square-foot space at the end of an aisle of slot machines, EDITH enables players to quickly purchase slot tickets with their ATM debit card. A player need only insert and remove their card and enter a PIN number to get EDITH to print a bar-coded voucher ticket, which can be inserted into a slot machine or redeemed for cash.
With GCA’s TODD (Ticket-Out Debit Device), players don’t even have to walk to the end of the aisle to refuel their gaming adventure. Attaching to the side of slot machines, TODD prints cash tickets for players who swipe any debit card, enter a PIN number and request a withdrawal amount. These funds also can be credited directly into the machine.
Both EDITH and TODD are equipped with GCA’s Self Transaction Exclusion Program, which allows patrons to exclude themselves from access to their own funds from any cash access device in the GCA network, or set daily withdrawal limits.
Accessing cash at the gaming device also was on the mind of Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies and Las Vegas based-Cash Systems Inc. when they co-developed the powercash system.
“Players have traditionally had only three ways to access funds while in a casino; either go to an ATM, a kiosk or a cashier’s cage,” said John Glaser, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Cash Systems. “With powercash, players can access funds from their credit card, debit card or checking account without getting up from their gaming device.”
With powercash, patrons enroll in Cash Systems’ cashclub product that ties their credit or debit card, or personal checking account to their casino players card. Enrollees receive a special PIN number that limits use of the financial instruments attached to their players card to themselves. Should they require additional funds while playing at a specially equipped gaming device, they can electronically transfer funds into and out of their players club account, Glaser said.
powercash operates through the Bally Power Bank feature of Bally’s Power Bonusing system. Power Bank enables players to deposit money at cashier’s stations that, through a mag-stripe card, can be electronically downloaded for play in slot machines. Winnings can be uploaded back into the account. Such transactions also are monitored through the system’s player tracking feature.
“With powercash, players also can budget their gaming activities,” Glaser noted. “One can set maximum amounts for accessing cash during a 24-hour period. When the limit is reached, no more cash can be downloaded into a player’s account until the next day. And while these limits can be lowered at any time, the waiting period to raise limits is 30 days.”
Another way to get more virtual money for cashless gaming is offered by the Arriva Card, a private-label credit card that casinos can offer customers that offers better terms on cash advances from casino ATMs and cashiers stations that ordinary credit cards.
Offered to casinos by GCA, Arriva enables players to obtain cash advances of up to 100 percent of their credit line, rather than been restricted to as little as 20 percent by ordinary credit cards, said Todd Smith, senior vice president of marketing. Unlike credit cards that charge interest from the day of withdrawal, Arriva provides a 25-day grace period. And Arriva offers players double the reward points of credit cards, which can be redeemed for luxury travel and lodging, VIP access to shows and sports events, upscale clothing and electronics, or cash.
GCA helps casinos issue the Arriva Card to its customers, including the setting of a customer’s credit limit (up to $20,000 depending on credit history). Arriva requires no annual fee, but charges an annual interest of 15.49 to 24.49 percent on advances not paid off before the end of the grace period.
Arriva cash advances can be made through GCA’s EDITH kiosks. The card also can be used to charge for non-gaming products and services throughout participating casinos, and at outside ATMs bearing the Arriva logo.
Additional cashless advances
GCA’s Quick Jack Plus kiosk is a multi-function redemption machine that takes some of the burden off the cashiers at cash out time. Players can use the kiosk to redeem slot tickets for cash. The kiosk also functions as an ATM, providing cash on demand; and breaking large banknotes into smaller denominations.
While having significant potential to be adapted for use in a cashless gaming environment, the RFID Wristband, created by Micros Systems Inc. of Columbia, Md., can also be used to make the rest of a casino hotel or resort property cashless.
When a patron checks into a hotel or resort, he or she can be issued a wristband containing an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip that is tied to the person’s room number. Any time patrons want to purchase something on premises (meals, gifts, golf fees, etc.) they simply hold out their wrist to be scanned by a handheld RFID reader that promptly charges purchases to patrons’ room. Customer’s can opt to put purchase limits on the wristbands so as not to exceed a preplanned budget, said Nick Low, product manager of the Leisure and Entertainment Division of Micros.
Offered as part of Micros’ 9700 product line, the wristband already has some potential uses on gaming floors for ordering drinks and snacks while continuing to play a favorite slot machine or table game, Low said. Micros is open to inquiries from casinos about adapting the RFID Wristband for cash replenishment purposes on the gaming floor.
Micros also markets programmable hotel cards that can be used the same as the RFID Wristband around hotels and resorts.