GGB NEWS SPECIAL REPORT: Will Covid-19 Mean the End of Cash?

Since the 1990s, consumer transactions have become increasingly cashless. Christopher Justice (l.), president of Global Payments, weighs in on how the current crisis could propel more cashless, “contactless” transactions, in gaming and across the board.

GGB NEWS SPECIAL REPORT: Will Covid-19 Mean the End of Cash?

Cash is no longer king, and hasn’t been the chief mode of payment for most consumers since the mid-1990s, when electronic banking and debit cards became widespread. Even so, until the recent shutdown cash was still prevalent in casinos. Many patrons preferred using cash to keep the slots reels spinning, to tip servers and to claim winnings, and regulators are reluctant to allow gambling on cards of any sort.

That could change in the post-coronavirus age, amid lingering fears of contagion. GGB News asked Christopher Justice, president of Las Vegas-based Global Payments, how the casino payments could change in the post-virus era.

GGB News: Due to Covid-19, people are wary of touching their own faces, much less money, which changes hands so frequently. In the post-viral casino, will contactless payments be the rule?

Christopher Justice: Covid-19 has created a public health mandate to touch as little as possible, and emphasizes contactless—or cashless—payments. These payment channels help safeguard both customer and merchant from the virus through reduced or eliminated interpersonal contact.

Contactless payments will most likely not be a rule, given that it’s up to each jurisdiction’s regulations as well as the casino operator to decide what’s best for them. Two-thirds of consumers have shifted to self-service in order to (maintain) social distance, and 30 percent leverage contactless forms of payment.

Consumers expect to play in a safe environment. We’ll see higher play and frequency at properties that do the best job of making guests feel comfortable.

Do you see cash going away completely one day, as a safety measure or for convenience?

Consumers are superstitious when it comes to gaming. Numerous psychological factors determine if and when a player places a bet, pushes a button or takes a card. Playing with cash may be one of those factors, so it’s hard to say that cash will go away completely.

But the trends in the macroeconomy show cash is fading away rapidly. Cash payments represent only 26 percent of all payments, a 4 percent decline from 2017.

Add Covid-19 to the mix, and we’ll see a faster shift away from cash. Twenty-nine percent of consumers are extremely worried or very worried about catching the virus from cash. Those perceptions are fueled by news reports that the Fed quarantines cash for seven to 10 days to slow the spread. That will impact when, where and how often people play casino games.

Casinos are all about people congregating and having fun. Are there ways we can be social as well as safe?

The definition of socialization may change for Americans over the next 18 to 24 months, until we have assurances of safety, enabling mask removal and closer proximity. Let’s face it, people miss social interactions, and sheltering in place adds to the pressure to return to normal.

But consumer payment trends toward mobile and contactless were already indicating an overwhelming need to modernize. The steep increase in those trends indicate that consumers prefer using a smart device to electronically manage their financial affairs. Early adopters of technology that match consumer commerce expectations will get a disproportionate share of total spend.

What are you hearing from your customers—if they’re talking—about how a recovery will unfold and when?

Research shows that one-third of guests would return tomorrow. Our customers are preparing for recovery by implementing policies and procedures that assure the public that it’s safe to return. They’re implementing protocols to check guest temperatures before entry, deploying personal protective equipment to employees, standardizing sanitizing procedures, and arranging the property to create social distance. In fact, the industry is working very well together to share best practices.

Combining those efforts with assurances from a medical authority or federal/state government agency that it’s safe, or if we achieve a medical breakthrough—in that case, according to an AGA-sponsored survey, 53 percent of consumers would return in 90 days.

Do you see opportunities for innovation in the current crisis?

As we see from the macroeconomy, gaming will become an omni-channel entertainment environment where guests will play across digital and physical environments.

How has Global Payments handled the shutdown in terms of employee furloughs and so forth?

Of course, we’ve experienced an impact. Global Payments is a well-managed, financially stable Fortune 500 company that has a significant war chest to weather the crisis. To protect the health and safety of our team, we enabled thousands of associates to work from home, which also ensures operational support and technological availability for our customers.

The company established philanthropic programs to provide relief to those impacted by Covid-19. This includes donations to local relief funds, partnerships with national food-related charitable nonprofits and a matching gift program for Global Payments employees looking to give back on an individual basis.

As my grandmother used to say, “This, too, shall pass.” We’ve also advanced important innovations during this downtime, and are helping casino executive teams to avoid financial services pitfalls on reopening.

Let’s talk about fraud mitigation and data security as the industry reopens. Are there risks associated simply with getting back to business?

Criminals exploit crisis situations, and the world has never seen one like the one we’re experiencing now. Phishing attempts increased 350 percent, as did cyberattacks to exploit teleworking infrastructure and distribute malware.

The grand scale of reopening will create an unprecedented time, when skeleton crews will be required to prepare systems, processes and procedures for a new way of business. We anticipate fraudsters will use this opportunity to their benefit.

So we’ve assembled key resources to mitigate the risk of reopening.