Hooray for Hollywood Casino — it may be going cashless. At a meeting this summer, the West Virginia Lottery Commission discussed owner Penn National Gaming’s proposal to make the Charles Town, West Virginia, casino cashless.
Ultimately, commission members OK’d the project moving ahead but decided to withhold final approval until they see it in operation. That trial phase is currently underway.
Lottery Commission members voiced mixed reactions to the proposal. Commission Chairman Ken Greear expressed caution, saying:
“It’s just a matter of making sure the players do not have something that interrupts or makes their enjoyment of the game more cumbersome or something that doesn’t work well.”
And commission member Roy Shrewsbury echoed Greear’s hesitation, saying, “I need a better feeling. I need to see it in action.” On the other hand, commission member Doug Bicksler said he didn’t think the new system would prove any more cumbersome than the current cash system.
Going cashless should make West Virginia casinos more convenient
Hollywood Casino’s vice president and general manager, Scott Saunders, greeted the commission’s decision with optimism. The casino has no firm date for the official switchover yet, but he has predicted that customers will get comfortable with the new cashless option once it launches.
Over the summer, he pointed out that digital wallets and digital platforms are where many businesses are heading. “We want to make sure we are a part of that moving forward,” he said.
Still, going forward takes some time. In addition to cashless system testing, video lottery machines have to be modified.
And although he was skeptical this summer, Greear said he didn’t foresee a cashless system affecting Hollywood Casino’s staffing. That could well prove true; when earlier noncash systems like TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out) flourished, employees who had been handling money mostly just moved on to different duties.
Other casinos around the nation are already cashless
Other Penn National Gaming properties in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have already gone cashless. And those transitions have proven successful, according to Saunders.
Omer Sattar, co-CEO of Sightline Payments, has used Starbucks to illustrate what seems to be happening with cashless systems within the gaming industry. The ubiquitous coffee chain launched 50 cashless stores and then expanded its cashless systems to its stores nationwide.
Cashless solutions for casinos began in the 1990s
Like almost every industry, gaming has seen its share of advances over time. A sort of precursor to modern cashless gaming, TITO systems popped up in the 1990s.
TITO did away with the iconic (and cinematically popular) deluges of coins that slot winners used to get. Instead, slot transactions evolved into a sort of a cash sandwich — cash came into play at the beginning and end, but the middle was cashless.
People have gotten more comfortable over the years with cashless business transactions in casinos and elsewhere. The pandemic may have partly hastened things with its worries about viruses on paper money.
In 2020, the American Gaming Association had already been advocating a shift to cashless systems, and now it encourages an even faster transition.
Still, Lawrence Shen, an analyst with C3 Gaming, predicted that in five years, at the most, two-thirds of all gaming payments will be cashless. Likewise, Sattar doesn’t believe the industry will go completely cashless.
And if cashless options go permanently into effect at Hollywood Casino Charles Town, the casino will still accept and use cash too.
Cashless gaming’s lack of totally universal appeal could stem from the historic link between gambling and cash, according to CDC Gaming Reports. After all, there’s nothing like the visceral feel or look of a wad of bills in someone’s hand.
Some cashless-payment system executives think casinos with local patrons will adopt these measures faster than destination casinos that attract long-distance travelers. Hollywood Casino is a little bit of both.
And Sattar sees regulatory hurdles and customers’ ease of access as the two main stumbling blocks to cashless operations’ expansion.
Casinos and customers see many benefits of going cashless
Cashless systems may offer benefits to those on both sides of the gaming table. For operators, going cashless can mean:
- More efficient targeting of rewards and loyalty programs
- Reduced concern over handling cash
- Attracting younger players, especially millennials, who are accustomed to and prefer debit cards or digital wallets
- More appeal for top-tier players
- Reducing fraud
- Making financial auditing easier
Benefits players might realize include:
- Setting self-imposed gambling limits
- More personalized rewards from casinos
- Not having to interrupt play for ATM visits
- Increased safety entering and exiting casinos
The last item could boost cashless gaming’s appeal to brick-and-mortar casino customers. Patrons in various states have been robbed of cash in casino parking lots and garages, followed home, and even forced off the road.
Of course, worries about increased gambling addiction accompany cashless gaming. But there’s also hope, at least, that casinos will use the oversight they gain with cashless systems to address customers’ gambling problems.
Nevada, a pioneer in allowing cashless gaming, has certain provisions that supposedly act as guardrails against problem gambling at cashless venues. They include daily monetary transfer limits.