Paper or plastic? Casinos explore mobile payment options

Posted 6/24/20

Using mobile payments like Apple Pay or a credit card could become more common to play games at the casinos.

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Paper or plastic? Casinos explore mobile payment options


Playing at the slot machines of a casino usually involves withdrawing cash, entering it into the machine, receiving slips after cashing out, and re-entering those slips at each machine.

At the end of your run, you take those final slips to a counter or a kiosk and get your money in bills and coins.

But using Apple Pay — or something similar — to play Wheel of Fortune? And then cash out on your phone? That’s among a bevy of options gaming officials have in mind for casinos to consider implementing to enhance patrons’ experiences.

Last week, the American Gaming Association released its new Payments Modernization Policy Principles, an 18-month, collaborative industry effort that provides a framework for regulatory flexibility, allowing digital payments on the casino floor.

“Advancing opportunities for digital payments has been one of our top priorities since my first day at the AGA,” stated Bill Miller, AGA president and CEO. “It aligns with gaming’s role as a modern, 21st century industry and bolsters our already rigorous regulatory and responsible gaming measures. The COVID-19 pandemic made it all the more important to advance our efforts to provide customers with the payment choice they are more comfortable with and have increasingly come to expect in their daily lives.”

According to a release from the AGA, 57% of past-year casino visitors report the option for digital or contactless payments on the casino floor is important to them because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say enabling payment choice allows casino customers the ability to supplement cash with safe and secure digital payment options on the casino floor. Along with improving responsible gaming efforts through digital tools that help customers monitor gaming and set limits, the principles also provide operators, regulators, and law enforcement increased transparency into matters of anti-money laundering and monitoring of financial transactions, according to the AGA.

“One of the things that keeps coming up with this — and wagering responsibly is at the core of what we’re trying to do, that’s why it’s the first principle listed there — is giving patrons choice,” Jonathan Michaels, vice president of Strategic Alliances for AGA, told the Daily Independent. “The example that keeps coming up is kind of like the Starbucks app which is you would prefund your wagering account, you go to a casino, and you tap your phone at a slot machine or a table game or a bar or a restaurant or wherever you would want to use that, and you’d be able to. It’s essentially giving customers the choice if they don’t want to just carry cash and put it in a machine and take a ticket out to be able to wager.”

Recent AGA research found that 59% of past-year casino visitors are less likely to use cash in their everyday lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This translates to customer preferences on the casino floor, as 54% indicate that they would be very likely to utilize a digital or contactless payment option when they gamble.

Digital methods are already used in areas like sports betting and online casino accounts. There, whenever you set up an account, several questions ask about limit setting, including total amount, wager size, deposits, etc. And in the app, you are able to track all of your wagers.

Mr. Michaels said there are a few tribal properties in southern California that are engaging in pilot programs, including a casino that signed a contract with Konami. Casinos in Indian country are also exploring digital payment options, as well as in commercial jurisdictions like Nevada and New Jersey.

Implementing the technology could become expensive, but Mr. Michaels said it depends on a casino’s existing infrastructure and how it meshes with technology.

“If a casino has a high-speed floor with their cabling, it’s easier,” he said. “There are a couple companies that out there that are developing kind of quick fixes that are relatively inexpensive, one or two hundred dollars to be able to utilize this technology.”

Cashing out on your phone is another concept that officials are looking into. Instead of receiving a paper slip every time you cash out at a machine, people would be able to cash out on their phone and have their earnings deposited back into their account.

“One of the challenges with ticket in, ticket out is it’s just a piece of paper with an amount on it,” Mr. Michaels said. “If you lose that piece of paper, you’re out of luck. There’s certainly ways through a digital environment that it could personalize it to your code so it makes it so you can’t lose those.”

The American Gaming Association is a national trade group representing the $261 billion U.S. casino industry, which supports 1.8 million jobs nationwide. AGA members include commercial and tribal casino operators, gaming suppliers, and other entities affiliated with the gaming industry.

The Daily Independent contacted multiple casino groups in the Valley regarding the principles, including Desert Diamond Casinos, Gila River Hotels & Casinos, and Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort & Casino.

A spokesman for Desert Diamond Casinos — which is operated by the Tohono O’odham Nation — said they are looking into this. A response was not available by deadline Wednesday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Gila River Hotels & Casinos, officials did not have anyone from their team available to respond. The group recently closed its three locations due to increased cases of COVID-19. Also, a security guard recently died from the virus, according to reports.

“They are focusing on using this time to update their safety measures for their team members and guests, as well as focus on its operations,” the spokeswoman stated via email.

Click here to view more information on the AGA’s payments modernization efforts and the full policy principles.