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Nevada Approves Debit-Card Play

In a unanimous decision, the Nevada Gaming Commission has approved slot wagering using prepaid debit cards directly at the machines. The decision took into account issues raised by the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

Cards will be tied to player’s club accounts

Players in Nevada casinos will soon be able to use prepaid debit cards inserted directly into machines to wager at the slots. The Nevada Gaming Commission last week voted 4-0 to approve the use of the special debit cards, in an amendment to the gaming regulations backed by several operators and by Las Vegas-based payment processing supplier Sightline Payments.

In the hearings prior to the commission’s decision, Sightline attorney Dennis Neilander—a former Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman—testified that the regulatory changes address all the concerns of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, a long opponent of credit and debit card use for slot wagers.

The cards, for instance, will display a message about problem gambling visible to players when they load funds to the cards from a bank account. They will carry monetary limits based on the rules of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and/or by the limits imposed on cash withdrawals by the banks issuing the cards. Players also can set their own limits when requesting the cards.

Sightline officials say the company’s current agreement with banks places a maximum of $2,000 per day, $4,500 per week and $10,000 per month on funds loaded to the prepaid cards. The maximum on any card at any time is $25,000. Under the new regulation, players won’t be able to use the card for at least 15 minutes after transferring funds.

Sightline is expected to sign deals with Nevada operators to create debit-card programs at each property. The special debit cards will be tied to the customer’s player loyalty card, so customers can use it in lieu of the normal player’s club card to earn points while playing slots. Outside the casino, they will work like any other debit card.

In addition to support from Neilander and other former regulators, the commission’s decision was based on support from operators including Station Casinos, MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and route operator United Coin Machine.

Station Casinos CFO Marc Falcone wrote a letter to the commission pointing out that since the cards must be reloaded from bank accounts when they hit zero, they function much like cash, and relieve the operators of cash-handling costs.

“We have significant cost associated with obtaining and handling cash,” Falcone wrote. “We believe that it is time Nevada gaming companies get the benefits of electronic commerce that have been available to other industries for several years.”

In another letter to the commission, United Coin General Manager Steve Des Champs said the cards will “provide an enhanced level of safety and security. The prepaid card also represents an interesting new tool for us to use in interacting with our guests.”

Sightline CFO Harry Hagerty told the Vegas Inc. website that player safety is an additional benefit of the debit cards. ““Winning a jackpot can be a dual-edged sword because it can bring additional attention to you from thieves,” Hagerty said, noting that the cards relieve players of carrying big wads of cash that can make them prey to robbers.

“This is a historic development for gaming, not just in Nevada but potentially nationwide,” Sightline founder and CEO Kirk Sanford said in a statement. “The gaming industry has long lagged behind the broader economy in its utilization of electronic payments. The action by the commission clears the way to bring the benefits of electronic payments to both gaming operators and gaming patrons. We’re grateful that Nevada has taken the first step, and we plan to pursue similar regulatory initiatives in other jurisdictions.”

Sightline’s Loyalty Card Plus prepaid solution has already been put into use by three online gaming operators in New Jersey (Borgata, PartyPoker and Golden Nugget). Sightline expects to launch its prepaid solution for other online and race-and-sports customers in the near future.

The Nevada regulatory amendment gives the Nevada Gaming Control Board the right to approve or deny the technology and equipment involved.