Cashless Gaming: The Future is Ticketless

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One of the biggest transformations on the casino floor happened more than 20 years ago, when casinos began adopting ticket in-ticket out (TITO) technology to replace coin operation. 

Not only did moving away from coins reduce wear and tear on machines, as well as on the staff who had to lug all that heavy change around, but it also allowed for a proliferation of more machine denominations, which has paved the way for things like a lot more multi-denomination machines.

While cashless gaming doesn’t necessarily bring with it the same level of transformation, it will continue to help the casino floors evolve, as the reliance on cash and tickets – physical items that still require management – transition into a fully digital world.

At the center of these solutions is a casino account that you can transfer money into from your bank account. From there, you can pull money from that account onto a particular slot machine or use what’s on account to buy chips at a table game. When finished, you can put the money back on account, and/or cash out what’s on account back into your pocket or bank account.

There are two challenges that are the most likely to cause friction. One is that it takes a number of steps today to get cash onto your machine. Understandably, there have to be security measures to keep your cash safe, but most of the systems we’ve seen just have a large number of steps compared with just inserting a $100 bill into the machine. 

Of course, this will avoid those scenarios where the bill acceptor won’t work or keeps spitting your money back at you, but this isn’t often an issue. And those who might be prone to put more money in a machine may find a single deposit vs. feeding $100 bills into a machine more attractive.

The second is that there’s a fee incurred when putting money onto your account. We’ve commonly seen 2 percent fees at land based casinos, and 3-5 percent fees on cruise ships, at least when done in certain ways or for certain player tiers (with fees waived at higher tiers in some cases). 

While players may have to pay a fee at an ATM to withdraw money, those fees have tended to be less than 2 percent. Compare a $500 withdrawal at an ATM that would usually be somewhere between $5 and $8, vs. $10 through a cashless system at a physical casino. 

Those couple of dollars will add up as the volumes get higher, too, given the ATM fees are traditionally fixed regardless of the amount withdrawn, and players can avoid the fees altogether by visiting their own bank before heading to the casino. But on a more positive note, players would not have to carry any significant cash on their person with a cashless system.

Aside from these two potential hurdles, the biggest thing making this more evolutionary vs. revolutionary is that these systems will live side by side with the traditional TITO system. When the shift occurred from coins to TITO, it was a rip the band-aid off moment where coins were abolished and the TITO systems came in. 

That won’t be the progression with cashless, given the reliance on players cards, cell phones and other items to be involved for these systems to work, and a portion of the casino visiting population may not have a compatible phone or use a players card (seriously – you should almost always use one).

But when it’s done right, it can be impressive. Carnival Cruise Line is among those who have a cashless system that works well with the tools available. While you can insert cash into a slot machine, the cashless system takes a lot of the need to do so away. 

Carnival Cruise Line cashless room charge on slot machine

You can charge to your room amounts you wish to buy in on a slot machine, and do so at no charge with your Sail & Sign card. Then you can choose how much you wish to transfer from your bank to a machine.

When done on a machine, whatever balance you have will transfer back to your bank, available for use on the next machine. You can check your available bank on both slot machines and the Carnival App, which is very helpful.

If you wish to play tables and have money in your bank, you can buy in for chips and there’s no fee for that either. (Charging to the room at the tables would incur a fee, unlike the slots.) When done at the table, you can cash out your chips at the cashier just like normal. If you choose to put that money into a slot, and then cash out, it goes back to the bank.

During one of our recent cruises, they had just installed a money machine that could read your players card, accept your PIN, and cash out your remaining bank in less than a minute, eliminating the need to wait in line at a cashier to do so. As the technology continues to evolve, players are more and more empowered to handle things without long cashier lines – this is where the holy grail of cashless gaming will likely lie.

Over time, casinos have been combining their cashier and players club desks into a single unified area. Cashier transactions, especially ones that involve cash advances and other credit card charges, can take a few minutes and back up a line quickly. This is likely where cashless gaming will have its biggest impact, and the best benefit for players.

For now, cashless gaming is an interesting evolution that has only begun to show its true value to players, but as the ease of use improves, and the tools to support it become stronger, it will likely become over time the primary way players access their gambling budget while on the casino floor.


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