When Sightline Payments last year announced a $300 million investment to deploy cashless technology at casinos, it was viewed as a bold attempt to bring the industry up to speed.
Cashless payments, ubiquitous across all sectors of the American economy, don’t have the same degree of acceptance in gaming. Sightline’s idea was that an investment in technology would eventually pay huge dividends as more states approve cashless payments for gaming; currently only 10 of the 44 jurisdictions with legal gaming permit cashless solutions.
Sightline’s Project 250 intends to upgrade 250,000 slot machines within three years. To accomplish that goal, the Fintech payments company enlisted Acres Manufacturing and its casino management technology, Foundation, that facilitates cashless gaming.
“We don’t have to change anything about our interface at all,” says Noah Acres of the collaboration. “Foundation is designed to be something that other applications can easily plug into, whether a payment processor or mobile application or applicable tool. We provide a common methodology for interfacing our data and our commands through SAS (slot accounting system) that works really well, because anybody who wants to come into our environment, it’s very easy to onboard them.”
Foundation collects real-time data that can be used in a variety of applications, from bonusing to video poker analytics. Acres’ recent inroads into cashless payments have been notable; in January 2023, the company announced that Foundation’s cashless gaming functionality was approved for use by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, the Mississippi Gaming Commission, and the Missouri Gaming Commission.
Sightline Payments CEO Omer Sattar says the implementation of Project 250 has been incremental but steady.
“We’re seeing significant progress in terms of customer engagement,” he says, adding that working with the Acres team has been “super easy. They’ve really built a good product.”
But in order for consumers to pay for gaming in the same way they buy groceries, meals at restaurants, or online purchases – without hesitating to use a cashless form of payment — Sattar says there are three “legs of a stool” that must be present.
First, the product itself needs to get better. “We need to keep making the user interface better and easier to use,” Sattar says.
But even if the product is perfect, the second leg – letting consumers know cashless payment options exist – is crucial. “It’s telling consumers the product is available and how easy and convenient it is and how safe and secure it is,” Sattar says. “Unless consumers know about it, they’re not going to adopt it.”
The third leg involves training casino employees who need to be able to explain how cashless systems function.
“It is imperative for them to understand that this is how it works and how it benefits them,” Sattar says. “You do all three (legs) concurrently. Our experience has been that if you do all three – train internally, make the product better, and explain to the consumer the benefits – you start to see the adoption curve increase.”
Noah Acres agrees that training is important, and that “larger, multi-property operators” will likely have dozens of people available to implement cashless systems. But that doesn’t mean smaller operations can’t deploy cashless through Foundation’s platform even if they have limited staff devoted to technology.
“Foundation is going to be great for everybody because it operates the same regardless of environments,” Acres says. “We can help those smaller places with lesser resources get online just as quickly as we can help the bigger guys get online.”
Sattar believes that as more casinos start to accept cashless payments, other operators will understand that there’s an inherent consumer demand for the technology. And he understands, after working in the gaming industry for 17 years, that progress can be slow.
“Things get hot and then they get cold,” Sattar says. “Everyone gets excited about something they want to do and then they move on. But I don’t think that’s the case here. What we have seen in the last six months is that interest is as high as ever. They’re just looking for the best solution that’s easy to adopt.”
Sattar adds that while operators are looking for options that handle all elements of cashless, including payments, the integration of table games, and tipping, it’s not expected they understand all the intricacies of the technology.
“What they’re looking for is folks like us and Acres to come and say here’s an end-to-end solution and here’s how it works,” Sattar says. “We’ve got it all figured out, and by the way this is how you market it, this is how you drive the top end of the bottom, and these are the incentives you want to put in place.”
While adoption of cashless payments ostensibly seem like a no brainer across all facets of the gaming industry – consumers, after all, have no issues using debit or credit cards at restaurants and for hotels on gaming properties — there’s still a bit of hesitation from operators. Noah Acres says that operators don’t want to be the first to try a new technology, only to see it fail.
“You don’t want to be the guy that is the guinea pig for the rest of the industry because there’s risk associated with that,” Acres says. “If you make a misstep, you look bad.”
But Acres says getting permission to operate in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri, and the increase of Foundation’s cashless technology footprint to 21 casinos, and 31,000 slot machines in nine states, has been a boon to future deployments and regulatory approvals. The company also recently announced that it will deploy Foundation’s cashless technology application at Rolling Hills Casino & Resort in the first half of this year.
“We’ve already solved the regulatory situation, we’ve already solved the rollout situation,” Acres says. “Everything is easily expandable.”