NIGA Tradeshow: Cashless gaming burgeoning due to pandemic

July 21, 2021 4:21 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
July 21, 2021 4:21 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

It took a worldwide health crisis, but cashless gaming has emerged and casinos, including tribal operations, are lining up to embrace the new technology their customers are seeking.

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Panelists representing three digital-wallet providers presented an optimistic outlook for the continued growth of cashless gaming as they spoke to tribal casino executives at the Indian Tradeshow & Convention in Las Vegas.

“Because of the pandemic, cashless gaming became king and the next hottest thing out there,” said Brendan Bussmann, a partner with Global Market Advisors who moderated the panel discussion “Going Cashless: Digital Wallets and Beyond.” “Over the past year, we’ve seen how the conversation has changed with more people asking about it.”

Operators are looking to provide greater convenience for their players’ gaming experiences, along with increased sanitation with touchless transactions. People are already using their phones more for making payments in their everyday lives, along with such tasks as downloading menus.

Resorts World set a standard in Las Vegas when it opened in June with a cashless system.

“Our solution is mobile first, because that’s where we live our lives,” said Jonathan Michaels, senior vice president of strategic development and government affairs for Sightline Payments, which worked with Resorts World. “In the gaming industry, we’re used to having a plastic loyalty card, but we also carry the phone everywhere. We’ve now seen all of that consumer behavior come together. We’ve gotten more comfortable with digital payments and you’ve seen a sea change in approach and comfort in these types of solutions.”

Jacob Lanning, a special advisor on systems and payments with IGT, said they have one digital-wallet system installed and are close to adding a second. He said it’s been amazing to see what had happened across other industries finally emerge in gaming.

“It’s really accelerated recently, as people get used to using digital forms of payments and other types of cashless payments in their everyday lives,” Lanning said. “The casinos have been that one industry that has been the stalwart of ‘cash is king’ in its business, but the consumers are telling us this is not the way they want to transact.”

Lanning said there will always be customers who carry “wads of cash” when they gamble, but the vast majority of people no longer want to stand in lines at ATMs or cages. One 2021 study that showed 26% of point-of-sale transactions used cash, which he called remarkable, since it was more than 50% only 10 years ago.

“Having an event like COVID has shone a light on how painful it is to manage and deal with cash, while maintaining social distancing,” Lanning said. “It has put a spotlight on what the rest of the world has already gone to.”

Victor Newsom, vice president of product management payment solutions at Everi, told the audience the company rolled out its 10th mobile wallet at a casino property on Tuesday. “COVID has forced casinos to take a longer look at their digital strategy,” Newsom said. But he added that they’re not leaving behind those who still prefer to use ATMs, TITO, and credit cards. Rather, the digital strategy is built on top of those.

One of the biggest challenges going forward, however, isn’t consumers, but the regulatory framework in states, Newsom said.

Michaels admitted that there’s been some friction in the process at Resorts World Las Vegas, because of existing gaming regulations. He said it’s also about educating and engaging with consumers to make the process as frictionless as possible. He insisted that consumers will enjoy the transition to cashless in the gaming industry. He felt it himself on this trip to Las Vegas. He said this was the first time he came to Las Vegas and didn’t have to get money out of an ATM to gamble. “It was exciting.”

The cashless-gaming experts all agreed that the biggest challenge the gaming industry will face is getting players signed up to use the digital wallet. Once people start using the technology and see how simple it is, they’ll continue to do so and not go back to using cash. It’s a lot easier for people to pull out their mobile phone and do a digital transaction than stand in line.

“But if you can’t get the customer in the ecosystem, it’s never going to go,” Lanning said. “If you spend your time on only one thing, it’s onboarding.”