From Buckets Of Quarters To Crypto Sans Borders: G2E Gets Digital

Leave the cash-stuffed duffel bag in the casino parking lot. Actually, don't.
kenny rogers g2e

Eighteen months ago, Joe Watkins’ mother-in-law didn’t have an email address. But the pandemic has created a new normal, one in which Watkins’ ma-in-law now not only has an email address, but sends her family group orders on DoorDash.

Watkins, a UNLV grad with an affinity for orange sweat socks, is the business development director of North American gaming at Worldpay from FIS, a cutting-edge payment processing company. He appeared alongside Jessica Feil, vice president of government relations and gaming policy counsel for the American Gaming Association, at a workshop on modernizing gaming payments at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas on Tuesday, one of a handful of sessions that envisioned a post-cash world for casinos and sportsbooks alike.

“The casino floor and flea markets were really the last bastions of cash-based business,” said Feil. “Interest in digital gaming is moving at light speed compared to the past couple of decades. It’s forced us all to use these tools that are available to us, and casinos are no different.”

‘Married to our buckets of quarters and nickels’

At the onset of the workshop, Watkins harked back to 1992, when Bill Clinton couldn’t stop thinking about tomorrow and the slot-machine industry was “married to our buckets of quarters and nickels.” Then TITOs came along and “now we can’t imagine a world where we’re married to our buckets of quarters and nickels again.”

TITOs (short for ticket-in, ticket-out) are not yet obsolete, but they will be soon. Prepaid cards and mobile wagering are twisting that knife and, as Feil noted, why risk toting $5,000 cash across a parking lot when far more secure options have achieved widespread adaptation? Moreover, noted Watkins, “it’s one of the best things you can do as an operator to change a cash-based player into a marker player.”

That being said, cryptocurrency isn’t there — yet. It has a branding problem that’s baked right into its name, which is a little too cozy with the term “cryptic.” But it has its advantages, or so its boosters say.

“I think there’s this notion that crypto is anonymous, when, really, it’s the exact opposite,” said Watkins. “Every transaction can be traced back. But, in general, we need to walk before we run.”

“Digital currency, cryptocurrency — that’s not anonymous, but cash is,” added Feil.

In this workshop and in an earlier one on “Crypto and Casinos,” the blockchain-based currency was touted as being traceable, transparent, and an excellent means of counteracting money laundering. While crypto wallets generally don’t disclose an owner’s identity, they are identified by wallet number. Should there be a whiff of malfeasance — transferring money to terrorists, say — it’s not rocket science to identify the loot’s origin.

Native cryptoh no!

But another problem with crypto is that, to most people, it’s about as decipherable as rocket science. When Everi executive Victor Newsom tried to break down the differences between various Bitcoin ATMs, heads were audibly scratched. But, to Newsom’s credit, he managed to break things down in the simplest of terms — something that’s not especially easy to do with the newfangled digi-dough.

In short, ATMs that let gamblers turn Bitcoin into cash are fine, because the user’s wallet is identified. But when the equation is reversed — when cash is transformed into Bitcoin — that’s a problem that can leave operators liable should the newly hatched crypto be utilized in a sinister manner.

“As an operator, you don’t want any of that,” said Newsom. “Don’t let anyone buy native cryptocurrency on your gaming floor.”

G2E’s expo hall smelled faintly like antifreeze Tuesday, and innovation was all the rage. But there were some nice throwback touches, with ZenSports handing out blue stress balls at its booth and a psychedelic rendering of Kenny Rogers in full “Gambler” mode looking down on the besuited throng, reminding everyone that there’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.


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