The latest advances in cashless gaming enable players to electronically move funds to play slots or bet sports

Casino operators in the United States are more open than ever to considering such cashless solutions.

As cashless gaming enters its second decade, the acceptance of the technology is no longer in question. The only remaining question is where cashless technology is heading and what enhancements it will offer players and casino management.

The era of cashless gaming arrived with the introduction of ticket in/ticket out (TITO) technology in early 1999. Almost immediately, skeptics predicted that hardcore players would never accept tickets when they could cradle coins in their hands as they poured from slots after a big win. But players recognized the convenience of not having to deal with loads of coins and slot tokens and quickly accepted TITO technology.

But as TITO tickets supplanted slot tokens, the industry is now seeking to take cashless gaming beyond TITO with new technologies that enable players to bank funds in electronic accounts from which they can place wagers on the gaming floor. Paralleling these developments are new technologies that help patrons secure additional funds for continued play when these virtual banks run low.

IGT Network Systems, which brought its brand of TITO to the gaming floor with its EZ Pay system, has developed the EZ Pay Smart Card, on which all cash values are stored on a microchip embedded in the card.

When this card is plugged into a slot machine, 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, according to Richard Rader, marketing manager for electronic funds products at IGT.

Cashsystems, now part of Global Cash Access, offers powercash, in conjunction with Bally Technologies, which enables players to access funds from their credit card, debit card or checking account without getting up from their gaming device.

Multipurpose card

The Smart Card also can double as the customer’s hotel key, players’ club card and VIP parking access pass, he noted.

“An advantage of the EZ Pay Smart Card is that it offers an extra level of security to players,” Rader said. “With ordinary credit and debit cards, the magnetic numbers are transferred in an online link, and thus can be copied by anyone willing to invest in the technology. But the Smart Card only moves funds in an offline link, so magnetic numbers only move to the game and back.”

IGT in July installed its first Smart Card system at Suncoast Casino in Durban, South Africa. The company is seeking approval in assorted U.S. jurisdictions, though Rader reported that Washington state does allow casinos there to use the Smart Card.

Account-based wagering, a concept that would enable players to place bets from linked terminals using funds held in an electronic account created in the casino, also is being brought to market.

One such system is Rapid Bet Live real-time sports wagering system being tweaked for marketing by Las Vegas-based Progressive Gaming International (PGI). The system works like this:

After placing a bet through a casino’s sports book on the final outcome of a game, Rapid Bet Live enables players to bank funds to place live action bets on numerous intra-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. As games progress, players winning early wagers often make larger bets, gaming experts have observed.

Two improvements recently have been added to Rapid Bet Live, said Derek Harmer, senior vice president for sports and poker management at PGI. One is to provide players with multi-site capability, so they don’t have to anchor themselves in one part of the casino. The other is the use of wireless handsets to place bets on sporting events and races throughout a casino property, thus potentially enabling patrons to bet on a football game while at the pool or on the golf course.

Field tests of the improved Rapid Bet Live began in July at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, prior to rolling out the system to other properties.

Another account-based wagering system offered by PGI is Pure Poker, which enables customers to engage in poker games through a wireless handset anywhere on casino grounds after establishing an account. The initial system enabled patrons to play virtual hands of poker against the house. But the latest system also enables play against other players connected throughout a closed loop inside the casino property, Harmer said.

“With a tie-in to the World Series of Poker, Pure Poker was designed to play Internet-style poker so it will have great appeal to younger card game aficionados,” Harmer added.

Pure Poker received GLI approval last January. Harrah’s Entertainment has been granted the right to offer Pure Poker first at one of its U.S. casinos.                    

One solution that never took off was the Arriva credit card created by Global Cash Access for casino players.

Aristocrat Technologies also has account-based system that operates through its Oasis 360 System.

“The PersonalBanker cashless solution enables a player to use their casino loyalty card to transfer cash from the game to their patron account established at the casino,” said Lael Berelowitz, Oasis product manager at Aristocrat. “The player can then access these funds from the same machine or another by inputting a PIN number. Once the PIN has been verified, the player can transfer cashable credits down to the game.

“In addition, the casino has the option of offering their players the ability to convert loyalty points earned from established play into cashable or non-cashable gaming credits. This can be done at the EGM utilizing PersonalBanker through the Sentinel III full-color touch screen in-game device,” he added.

Despite use of the word “cashless,” players must still input actual cash before play can begin or continue. Helping players get these funds are products such as the EDITH (Electronic Debit Interactive Terminal Housing) kiosk from Global Cash Access (GCA), based in Las Vegas.

Occupying less than 1-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.

EDITH is 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.

Not all cashless gaming technologies have succeeded. After less than two years, GCA has withdrawn from the market its Arriva Card, a private-label credit card for casinos. Designed to work through GCA’s EDITH kiosks, Arriva offered customers better terms on cash advances from casino ATMs and cashiers stations than regular credit cards. The card also could be used to charge for non-gaming products and services at the casino of issuance.

“We discovered that it was difficult to run a credit card program on such a small scale,” GCA’s Betts said. “We did not hit our financial targets, and the current economy certainly didn’t help matters.”

This has not discouraged other companies from looking into what some call the e-wallet concept. IGT is working on what is tentatively called the EZ Pay Mag-Stripe Card. It would be able to perform many of the same functions the same as IGT’s Smart Card version, except that card values are retained in the casino’s central computer. It would also ease financial transactions for customers seeking additional gaming funds.

Another e-wallet concept product is the powercash system from GCA. Acquired with its purchase of Cashsystems Inc. last summer, powercash enables players to access funds from their credit card, debit card or checking account without getting up from their gaming device.

With powercash, patrons enroll in the system’s Cash Club product that ties their credit or debit card, or personal checking account to their Players Card. Enrollees receive a special PIN number that limits use of the financial instruments attached to their Players Card to themselves. Then 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 as required, 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, and winnings uploaded back into the account. Such transactions also are monitored through the system’s player tracking feature.

Powercash also enables players to budget their gaming activities by setting a 24-hour cash access limit. 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.

As much as players like no-hassle access to cash when they begin play, they like cashing out winnings even more.

Helping in that task is the Quick Jack Plus multi-function redemption machine from GCA. Designed to take some of the burden off a casino’s cashiers’ cages, this kiosk lets players redeem slot tickets themselves. The kiosk also functions as an ATM, providing cash on demand; and breaking large banknotes into smaller denominations.

Other technologies are on the horizon. One in R&D would enable high-rollers to accept their cash through a wireless handset for play on high-denomination slot machines. But don’t expect to see this one until at least the 2009 Global Gaming Expo.