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Chris Jones

Technology and Gambling: Faster Cash, But At What Cost?

8 November 2004

New technologies might soon allow Nevada gamblers to withdraw cash from a credit or bank account without interrupting their round of video poker or hand of blackjack, state gaming regulators said last week.

Learning whether such a change would encourage problem gambling remains a key obstacle, but that has yet to slow several companies' quests to bring gamblers and their money together as easily as modern innovation will allow.

Representatives of Las Vegas-based Mikohn Gaming Corp. and a Minnesota company called Cash Systems on Wednesday lobbied the Gaming Control Board to allow Nevada casinos to use Stay-N-Play, a wireless device Cash Systems President Craig Potts said is used at Southern California's Bicycle Casino.

Stay-N-Play users give a credit or debit card to a casino attendant who subsequently swipes the card to access the customer's account. After personally and electronically verifying a player's identification and fund availability, the attendant collects a signature and passes cash to the customer. The host casino, Mikohn and Cash Systems collect fees on each transaction.

Mikohn agreed to locally market Cash Systems' wireless device earlier this year, said Mike Dreitzer, Mikohn executive vice president and general counsel. MGM Mirage and several smaller Nevada casino operators have expressed interest should Stay-N-Play be approved, he told the board.

After an hour-long discussion, Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the state would consider a limited field trial of Stay-N-Play after the companies determine its likely effect on problem gamblers. Board member Scott Scherer concurred, asking the companies to return once they've selected a third-party researcher capable of studying the devices.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, was pleased by the board's discretion.

"New technology, new procedures should be evaluated and pilot tested before they're approved," Whyte said by telephone Thursday from Washington, D.C. "I applaud the control board for suggesting that that's a good thing to do."

Problem gaming concerns last year caused the Nevada Gaming Commission to reject plans to install debit card readers directly within gaming devices. The same worries caused the Legislature to ban the similar use of credit cards nearly nine years ago.

Tom Sears, whose competing company, Las Vegas-based Global Cash Access, offers in-machine debit readers, said the board should remove restrictions on in-machine devices if it approves wireless devices like Stay-N-Play.

"The amendment (preventing in-machine readers) was designed to not enable access to funds while a patron sits at a gaming device," Sears said, adding the procedural mechanics are not a factor in the regulation.

However, Mikohn Executive Vice President Bob Parente said Stay-N-Play's need for an attendant sets it apart from in-machine readers.

"It's not as if somebody is sitting at a machine and no one knows what they're doing," Parente said. "Through every step of this process, you have a human you have to interact with."

Whyte questioned casino workers' general ability to recognize problem gamblers.

"If the attendant was a trained behavioral psychologist, that might provide some sort of comfort," he chided.

Whyte stressed education and preventive programs are the best way to slow gambling addiction. But short breaks while playing -- even it they're only to walk to an automated teller machine -- could help problem gamblers to temporarily "cool off," he said.

"There are a lot of better ways to deal with problem gambling, but having a break in play we know is a good thing," said Whyte, who hopes more technology will be used to deter problem gaming rather than promote it.