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Cashless gaming is a wildcard for casinos

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Harry Hagerty of Sightline Payments demonstrates the cashless slot machine technology. (FOX5) Harry Hagerty of Sightline Payments demonstrates the cashless slot machine technology. (FOX5)
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Every year, people drop $10 billion into Nevada slot machines.

Until 15 years ago, that money came in the form of coins, but cash is king. So, operators moved to paper money at the one-arm bandits. Greenbacks could soon go the way of the dinosaur as plastic becomes the preferred method of payment for casinos.

Las Vegas-based Sightline Payments came up with the process of cashless gaming, and acts as a sort of clearing house for the transactions.

"Less than 10 percent of transactions in the retail economy are cash," said Harry Hagerty of Sightline. "However, in gaming, 95 percent of transactions are in cash. Walmart hasn't operated this way in 40 years."

Customers will order the card online, and when it arrives a week later, they can load it with cash online or through a mobile app.

Use of this new system is not as simple as sticking the new debit card into a slot machine.

The new card will be connected with your local casino players club card, and funds are transferred between the two electronically.

"At the slot machine, the player still puts in their player card like he or she normally does, and they use their PIN to view their account balances and initiate the funds transfer," said Brian Kelly, senior vice president of technology at Bally Technologies. "They're not having to learn anything new than what they already do today."

"While they look and smell like regular credit and debit cards, there's a key distinction that makes these allowable in casinos," said Hagerty. "Once you're out of money on your prepaid card, it's like being out of money in your wallet."

Bally Technologies, which makes a majority of the slots in Nevada, will be the first to retrofit existing machines with the cashless option by the end of the year.

Proponents of responsible gaming said there are safeguards in place that will protect people from the impulsive decisions that can get gamblers in trouble. For example, customers will have to wait at least 15 minutes before they are allowed to reload their cards.

"Time and delay is important to people thinking about what they're about to do and making a conscious decision as opposed to becoming reactionary and impulsive," said Carol O'Hare of Nevada's Council On Problem Gaming.

Direct deposits from paychecks will not be allowed, and links to responsible gaming websites will be shown during the reloading process.

Why the change? Casinos hope that reducing the amount of cash they handle could save tens of millions of dollars. But gaming expert David G. Schwartz of the University of Nevada Las Vegas said he's not sure if the switch to cashless will result in the same loss of jobs as the switch from coins did.

"We saw a lot of layoffs when they eliminated coins complete from casinos," Schwartz said. "I don't think this is the same kind of change. I think people will still be using bills and bill validators. You'll still need people to count those. Some customers, though, are going to prefer the card."

As casinos move into the digital, cashless age, Hagerty said he expects cards to become the standard at other casino games, as well.

"The technology exists to bring this to the table game side of the business right now," Hagerty said. "It's just a question of getting an approved methodology for doing that with gaming regulators here in Nevada."

The cards that Sightline is using double as Discover cards. So the money that is loaded on them isn't just good for slot machines. They can be used anywhere that accepts Discover.

Customers are only allowed to load $2,000 per day to their cards, with a cap of $10,000 per month. The average transaction fee for the reload is $1.50.

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