Cash is king. And in the casino business, it’s really king.
It’s an oddity in a modern economy: an industry worth more than $60 billion dealing almost exclusively in cash. Now, casinos are rethinking that inordinate reliance on the greenback, and some are looking to prepaid cards — a sort of midpoint between cash and a full-fledged debit card — to modernize the way they take bets.
The consensus among casino operators and regulators has long been that slipping your debit card into one of more than 800,000 slot machines in the United States, or swiping it at a craps table, would just be too easy.
So gamblers have been mostly constrained to cash on the casino floor. Onsite ATMs offer a little bit of friction for gamblers on a tear, forcing them to consider, if only for a minute, whether they really want to keep gambling.
But in 2014, regulators in Nevada changed state rules to allow gamblers to use prepaid cards in slot machines. Big changes have been afoot ever since.
“We are evolving into a cashless environment within the gaming industry,” said Joe Pappano, an executive at Vantiv Gaming Solutions, an offshoot of one of the largest credit-card payment processors in the United States.
At the center of that evolution is a company called Sightline Payments, which Vantiv has an equity stake in. Sightline’s platform, called Play+Account, allows gamblers to use comp cards to pay for slot wagers. The system links the card with a prepaid account on which gamblers can load and reload funds and store winnings. The prepaid account comes with its own card, which can be used outside the casino for ATM withdrawals or for purchases where Discover cards are accepted.
That means casinos, whose robust customer-tracking software is already considered a marketing marvel, can now follow customers beyond the gambling hall.
“No casino has ever been able to obtain that information before,” said Diran Kludjian, a co-founder of Sightline.
A version of the technology is being used by Station Casinos for sports betting. But the system will make its big debut in the next 45 days, when Mohegan Sun in Connecticut begins accepting prepaid accounts for slots and table play, Kludjian said. Sightline is in discussions with casino operators to bring Play+Account to Atlantic City, he said.
Kerry Langan, spokeswoman for the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, said New Jersey regulations permit prepaid cards, or “account-based wagering.” The agency has had discussions with prepaid product vendors, she said.
Regulators have long been hesitant to allow gamblers to pay with plastic. But limits can be placed on prepaid accounts to control the amount and frequency at which they’re funded, said Pappano, of Vantiv.
Neva Pryor, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said controls such as those, which are already used by legal Internet casinos in New Jersey, may offer some potential for what clinicians call “harm reduction.”
“If it’s going to help people not gamble as much or put parameters around it, we’re for that,” she said.
But limits are only as effective as those setting them.
“There’s nothing to say that that’s going to stop the person from switching to different forms of accessing their funds,” she said.