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Gaming Guru

Kevin Rademacher

Casino Money a Different Game for Non-Nevada Banks

2 May 2005

In Las Vegas, bankers hardly blink at a multi-million dollar change order from a Strip casino customer, but such a request creates quite a stir in just about any other market.

As gaming continues its spread across the country, Nevada bankers are frequently called on to share their expertise -- and ease frayed nerves -- with lessons on what it takes to keep a casino well-stocked in its most important product, cash.

Jay Kornmayer, chairman of Wells Fargo Bank of Nevada, is familiar with the drill.

"It's an education process with a vault that's never serviced a casino before," he said. "They just don't understand the magnitude of deposits and cash requirements."

Esther Dotts, a vice president in Wells Fargo Bank's Gaming Division, has fielded calls at all hours of the day and night from stunned bank employees.

"They are very shocked," said Dotts, a 31-year Nevada banking veteran who has been in the Gaming Division at Wells for a dozen years. "We have had frantic calls from the vault after getting a (multi-million dollar) change order."

Such an order would never come from a retail client, she said.

"What retail operation would need that and would need it tomorrow morning?" Dotts explained. She emphasized that the bank has never had trouble filling an order, but the size does catch employees unfamiliar with gaming off guard.

Bank officials are tight-lipped about giving out details on individual clients or the volume of dollars going through those clients, but Dotts said that in order to open a casino, even smaller Indian casinos, the initial cash order is "many millions of dollars." The money is needed to supply the casino cages, kiosks and cashiers.

George Smith, president of Bank of America's Nevada operations, agreed that handling the gaming industry's cash needs can be overwhelming.

"Those are significant dollars," he said. "Our vault is a factory."

Smith said that 85 percent of the $100 bills distributed by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank are sent into Las Vegas.

Gaming bankers said that almost all the cash that goes into a casino is in $100 bills, but it comes back in every denomination imaginable. Because of technology, though, coins are drying up.

When Dotts arrived in Las Vegas 31 years ago, she knew almost immediately that business here was distinctly different than what she was used to in Southern California.

On her third day at long-gone Nevada National Bank, she was asked by the manager to participate in a cash count. In the vault, the manager called out the count for $100 bills. "Six million dollars and something," Dotts recalled.

She thought he was joking.

He wasn't.

"When he called off the 50's, I was still staring at him," she said. "That's when I started to get interested in how much it took to run a casino."

Now cash is just a portion of what banks provide to their casino customers. There's also a series of computer-based account management products, allowing casino financial experts to shift money into larger sweep accounts and take advantage of two- to three-day investments in an effort to maximize the use of cash.