You’ve possibly used Apple Wallet, Google Pay, or a number of other apps to make purchases in stores using nothing but your smartphone before. That same technology could soon become as commonplace in Pennsylvania casinos, as cashless gaming systems mature.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are also on the horizon as banking options for gamblers. It’s all an effort by companies like PA-based Penn National Gaming (PNG) to make sure they accept the payment forms consumers prefer to use.
Is cashless gaming coming to PA casinos?
New, electronic payment options seem more a matter of when than if at this point. Last week, PA Gaming Control Board executive director Kevin O’Toole told PlayPennsylvania the agency is working toward providing a regulatory framework for various cashless funding sources.
The use of such payment methods is already available in disparate, sparse places in the US when it comes to gambling. For example, Boyd Gaming has introduced a digital wallet into its rewards program. Patrons at Boyd properties in Nevada, Indiana, and Ohio have access to “BoydPay.”
For gamblers unfamiliar with the concept of a digital wallet, it’s essentially an electronic version of your bank card. The payment tool is an app on your smartphone, which has the payment details stored. Soon, any business that doesn’t accept this kind of payment will become obsolete.
Why cashless systems are popular
There are three benefits to both payees and payors in this system. First, it provides an added layer of protection for customers’ financial details, as the system doesn’t actually use the 16 digits on your bank card.
Secondly, it reduces contact between employees and guests in a couple of ways. There is less physical currency that changes hands and customers never have to touch processing equipment as they would in the process of swiping a bank card.
Third, it allows companies like Penn National a way to seamlessly integrate customer loyalty programs. Research shows consumers are starting to expect such offerings. It’s a natural marketing tool, as well.
How close are PA gambling companies like Penn to implementing acceptance of this type at their brick-and-mortar facilities? PNG is working on the answer to that question.
PNG properties could see program soon
Eric Schippers, PNG’s senior vice president for government relations and public affairs, signaled that this effort is getting the company’s foremost attention.
“We recently launched our MyChoice loyalty program mobile app,” Schippers explained. “Which will provide us with an environmentally friendly and more efficient way to communicate, interact, and engage with our guests. The 35 to 54 age group is currently the most engaged audience with the app, which is very encouraging as this group represents a growing segment of our different business channels.”
When retailers like grocers have been accepting cashless payments for years, why has it taken so long for the gambling industry to catch up? Concerns about responsible gambling have slowed rollout. However, it’s all about perspective.
How cashless systems actually benefit responsible gambling efforts
The primary hesitation about giving gambling operators the green light to use cashless systems is responsible gambling. Put simply, the fear is that with no physical currency leaving gamblers’ wallets, more of them will struggle to stick to their budgets.
That’s more of a lack of an understanding of the technology than a legitimate concern, though. The fact is that cashless systems give gamblers who prefer to play in-person rather than online some of the same protections that online gamblers enjoy.
For instance, users of PNG’s MyChoice app could use the app to set custom spending and time limits. The app can also provide them with real-time statements of their gambling activity, including how much money and time they’ve spent.
Awareness is a key safeguard against developing a compulsive gambling issue. Gambling companies are also becoming more aware of cryptocurrencies.
Kicking the tires on Bitcoin
Right now, acceptance of cryptocurrencies is something that gambling companies are keeping at arms’ length. They are making sure to keep it within their sights, though.
IGT, which provides gaming software to a number of US companies, has a patent on cryptocurrency acceptance in its digital wallet system. While it does not have any partners currently employing that option, it could only be a matter of time.
The unregulated nature of the currency that makes it attractive to many consumers could be an exact hindrance in the gambling industry. Cashless gaming systems are in their infancy. For that reason, it’s likely regulators will want to stick to federally-regulated bank cards for the time being.
PNG seems on board with that idea as well. When it does start accepting digital wallet payments, it will likely restrict the options to debit cards.
In the near future, playing a slot at The Meadows may only require you to wave your phone in front of the machine. PNG wants to be among the first to make that option available not only in PA but across the nation.
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Wayne Parry