Cashless Payments On The Rise, But Are They Coming Soon To PA Casinos?

Posted on June 23, 2020 - Last Updated on August 24, 2020

Before coronavirus, cashless payment systems beyond debit and credit cards — mostly Venmo, Apple Pay and Google Pay — were gaining serious traction.

When coronavirus caused businesses to quickly pivot and offer contactless transactions, it was off to the races.

Going cashless at the coffee shop is easy. However, it’s more difficult at a casino, where cash is tossed on the tables, slid into slot machines and doled out at the counter.

There is already a strong sentiment among casino-goers for cash-free gaming. The systems are in place in other industries. With a will and a way already strong, is Pennsylvania on the verge of offering a digital and cashless casino experience?

Gambling expansion law OK’d contactless payment options

An agenda item at the June 10 Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Meeting addressed a statement of policy regarding prepaid access transactions.

Included in 2017 Pennsylvania’s gambling expansion law is a section that allows casino patrons to “make purchases from prepaid access instruments from casinos.”

Chad Zimmerman, assistant chief counsel, gave an in-depth reading of that part of the expansion law:

“Casinos in the Commonwealth are permitted to allow patrons to purchase value chips, credits on the slot machine or engage in other gaming transactions using a prepaid access instrument that is issued by the casino. The patron funds the account with either cash or cash equivalents at the casino. They may be able to go online through a mobile application or a website and fund the account with a debit card, credit card or ACH transaction. Once funded, the patron may use this prepaid access — which may take the form of a card, barcode or unique identifier — anywhere in the casino to play where there is an approved cashless wagering system. These prepaid access instruments can also be used for more than just gaming transactions at the casino. A patron can use their preloaded funds to purchase items at retail [outlets] or restaurants.”

American Gaming Association pushes for cashless options

The American Gaming Association, the gambling industry national trade group, is urging regulators to update their rules or laws to integrate cashless options for gamblers. They are supporting regulator, operator and supplier efforts to introduce digital payments. It is just one part of a number of contactless measures to promote public health on the casino floor.

The AGA released new Payments Modernization Policy Principles on June 16. They’re the result of an 18-month effort to provide a framework for regulatory flexibility to allow digital payments at casinos.

Recent AGA research surveyed past-year casino visitors. It revealed:

  • Fifty-seven percent said the option for digital or contactless payments at casinos is important because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Fifty-nine percent are less likely to use cash in their everyday lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Fifty-four percent indicate that they would be very likely to utilize a digital or contactless payment option when they gamble.

What would modernizing payment options entail?

Bill Miller, AGA president and CEO, said:

“Advancing opportunities for digital payments has been one of our top priorities since my first day at the AGA. 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.”

The Payments Modernization Policy Principles aim to educate state and tribal regulators who are considering expanding payment choice, and:

  • Equip customers with more tools to wager responsibly.
  • Give customers a payment choice and convenience.
  • Ensure that state laws enable a flexible regulatory approach, capable of keeping pace with evolving forms of digital payments.
  • Address heightened customer public health concerns.
  • Give customers confidence in digital payment security.
  • Create a uniform regulatory environment for casino operators, suppliers and regulators.
  • Empower law enforcement to better identify offenders through digital payment analysis.

PA casinos and the contactless payment

Pennsylvania’s 12 brick-and-mortar casinos closed in mid-March to slow the spread of coronavirus. Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and The Meadows were the first to reopen, on June 9. By June 29, 11 casinos in PA will once again be operating. Upon reopening, casinos must follow PGCB COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols, and many are implementing additional safeguards.

As casinos get back on their feet from a historically long closure and loss of revenue, expect them to continue to adopt better and safer ways to accommodate guests. However, cash-free isn’t necessarily coming soon to PA casinos.

PGCB Director of Communication Doug Harbach said that casinos believe their customers would be interested in using cashless payments.

“At the same time, discussions with casinos are still in [their] infancy. Certainly, before this new payment option would come to fruition, there would need to be regulations and approved internal controls from the casinos, along with hardware and software that would need to be tested.”

How dirty is cash?

In pre-pandemic 2014, The Dirty Money Project, a scientific research project at New York University, performed a study on the DNA of cash to understand the role it plays in spreading diseases. Its findings are more stomach-churning than a bad beat.

Three thousand types of bacteria live on the surface of cash. While most are harmless, some have DNA from drug-resistant microbes.

What types of microbes like to live on money?

Propionibacterium acnes was the most common — the bacteria that causes acne.

Other common cash dwellers included mouth microbes, since people lick their fingers when counting bills, and also “bacteria that thrive in the vagina,” said biologist Jane Carlton, who led the project.

Why?

“People probably aren’t washing their hands after [using] the bathroom,” she says.

The Southern Medical Journal also conducted a study that basically showed that touching paper currency is a biological Big Six game for your immune system.

Ninety-four percent of bills tested contained pathogenic or potentially pathogenic organisms. Basically, most of the money in your wallet has a disease-causing bacterium, virus or microorganism on it.

Cashless payment choices on the rise for casinos

Global Payments provides payment solutions for over 2.5 million businesses and processes 17 billion transactions every year.

Christopher Justice, president of Global Payments Gaming Solutions, spoke to Legal Sports Report about casinos implementing more contactless and mobile payment choices.

“Conversations have certainly increased at the operator and regulator level. Guests need to feel safe before they will return. Given the public health mandate to touch as little as possible, there is a compelling argument to be made that mobile and contactless experiences are a necessity.”

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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