Pandemic and the U.S. war on cash
Most card counters at blackjack and other types of advantage players have experienced different types of casino harassment during their playing careers. This is nothing new. The years-long “war on cash” in the United States has caused many problems for skilled casino patrons, including wrongful attempts at cash seizures by legal authorities.
The advantage player, who generally prefers to be anonymous, is always wary of things whose unintended consequences include a method under which casinos can stealthily obtain their identification information. With regulators, such as the Nevada Gaming Control Board, seeming to relax the protections offered to the patron by cash, and perhaps encouraging another way to enable casinos taking advantage of gambling addicts, a new menace is rearing its head. While many casino patrons, who are neither advantage players nor, at the other extreme, gambling addicts, may see benefit in cashless payment systems, there can be no doubt that this development makes playing anonymously that much more difficult.
Omer Sattar, executive vice president and co-founder of Sightline Payments, anticipates that seventy-five percent of U.S. casinos will offer some form of cashless payment system for gaming within three years.
Sightline, a Las Vegas-based tech firm involved in making the casino industry more cashless, hopes to thrive.
The casino industry, synonymous with cash since its inception, has considered the cashless concept before, but some observers believe consumer habits driven by the COVID-19 pandemic will help accelerate the acceptance of such systems.
“You can go to almost any casino in the country and, if you want to play blackjack or play a slot machine, you’re going to be using cash,” Sattar said. “In your everyday life, however, you use electronic payment options for almost everything”
Sightline has worked with casino companies like MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and Caesars Entertainment, and game technology firms like Aristocrat Technologies, to promote cashless payment options.
Much of what it has done to date has been in the sports betting area, again to the detriment of skilled patrons. One program works in conjunction with Bank of George to allow mobile account users, through a prepaid card, to load money into their sports betting account without stepping foot in the casino. The card can also be used like a debit card to make purchases, though enormous fees apply --- 4% of the amount deposited. This drain of cash would be crippling to the serious casino patron or sports bettor.
Nevertheless, Sattar said a deal is in place with a major Strip casino operator to allow player’s card holders to use a cashless system to pay for their entire “experience” at the property. That might include anything from lunch to blackjack, all without handling paper money.
There are reasons why the casino industry has generally been reluctant to move away from the cash standard—electronic security concerns among them—but Sattar said the pandemic has driven demand.
“Places were getting shut down in March (of 2020), and we started getting calls from casino operators around the country in May,” Sattar said. “They were saying they needed to open and that many of their consumers were no longer comfortable using cash. Contactless payments have skyrocketed all around the world because consumers are wanting to touch less paper.”
It’s all part of a trend that isn’t likely to reverse itself. Regulators seem to have abdicated their responsibilities in protecting the public from it. “COVID-19 has sped up this cashless wagering process, though it was on everyone’s roadmap before the pandemic,” said Blake Rampmaier, Boyd Gaming’s chief information officer. “Operators and customers have been getting more comfortable with the idea.”
Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said one silver lining in an otherwise disastrous past 11 months for the industry has been the acceptance of digital payment options. Miller, a vocal cashless proponent in recent years, said it’s important to give customers the “payment choice they expect in every aspect of their daily lives” when they gamble.
Miller added that “the collaborative work of gaming suppliers, operators, and regulators to advance payments modernization over the past year is a testament to how innovation will accelerate gaming’s recovery in 2021 and beyond.”
Miller had nothing to say about the negative effect on the hapless addict, who will be able to lose more and more money without having to get up from a table or machine. And of course nothing to say about the negative effect on advantage players, whose well-being is understandably of no concern to the industry.
“Pandemic accelerates move toward cashless casino industry” , Bryan Horwath, lasvegassun.com, March 1, 2021.