INTRO: Cards are a big part of casino marketing to millions of Americans. There's the players club cards offering perks for gambling and recently casinos have started offering credit cards with the same kinds of perks. Legislators derailed plans last year to allow customers to gamble with credit cards. But as KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports, it's not the end of allowing customers to gamble with plastic.
PLASKON: This month MGM-Mirage is pulling from its database of millions of people from around the world who have registered as gamblers or rented hotel rooms and sending them credit card applications. It's a plan Steven Moore of Loyalty Marketing has had in the works for two years.
MOORE: It is going to put our brands and sweet of brands in front of those customers in their daily lives and so when they are out there at the grocery store and they use this to pay for their purchases they will remember us.
PLASKON: Remember and come back. But there are incentives too. For every dollar the card user spends, they get one or two points and with 25-hundred points they'll get a 25 dollar gift certificate for dining, hotel stays or show tickets. But they can't use the card for gambling because last year the Nevada legislature made it illegal to use credit cards for gaming. So MGM and Harrahs, which also offer credit cards, say the cards are mainly to draw back customers. Tom Gray is the Executive Director of National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.
GRAY: Once you get a person in what you want to do is separate them from their money as fast as possible and make it as easy as possible for them to continue loosing.
PLASKON: Opponents and proponents of gaming say winning or loosing, depending on what side of the table your on, is slightly stalled currently because slot players have to get up and go to an ATM machine to get more money. Opponents say in that short period of time between the slot machine and ATM, a person is forced to escape the addiction of a slot machine. But customers don't want to loose their seats or escape the machine and casino officials recognize that so they want customers to have easier access to their money and a plan to allow gamblers to insert ATM cards into slot machines is part of it.
SEARS: You know, your knee jerk reaction is kind of that it is the boogie man.
PLASKON: Tom Sears of Global Cash Access has a pilot project underway. The company has installed ATMs on slot machines at the Pauma Indian casino in California. He says it gives gamblers the freedom to spend without getting up to go to an ATM.
SEARS: But I think that the reality is that the casino has marketed, you come in through the door and you have made the decision to sit down at a slot machine and ply and so we are just a convenience of how you fund that play.
PLASKON: But that convenience isn't in Nevada yet. The Nevada Gaming Commission amended its regulations last year to say it would not grant approval to ATMs on slot machines until it's studied the issue. Sears says he has supportive data from the pilot program at the Pauma casino and wants to test ATM capable slots on customers at 100 machines in Las Vegas too. He'll have to get approval from the gaming commission first. Sears petition to do so is . . .
SEARS: Pretty close. It just kind of depends on what everybody's hot buttons are at the time this is obviously a very politically sensitive concept. And weather this is the right time to do this or not is something that we are thinking about as a company.
PLASKON: He says the ability to put ATM cards in slot machines will be normal in the future. MGM Vice President Alan Feldman has said combining slot machines and ATMs is a threshold many properties aren't willing to cross. But Global Cash Access has a tempting offer, it'll install the ATM machines on slots for free at casinos in exchange for the fee on each transaction. Meanwhile Gregg Gale, Chief Auditor for the Nevada Gaming Control Board is waiting for the petition to allow ATMs on slot machines. He's talking to Sears about how gamblers are using the ones at the Pauma casino.
GALE: I think he has found that it is a maximum is 100 dollars a day that people draw against their checking account and I think that the gaming commission will see that when it goes to the commission.
PLASKON: Both Gale and Sears say a third party will have to study who could be affected by easer access to their money at slots. They say it's people at risk of problem gambling that's of the most concern. One group of gamblers that would be particularly affected are women according to Rachel Volberg President of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
VOLBERG: Almost all of the women who access our help line or our help line internationally 80-90 percent say that their primary problem is with slot machines.
PLASKON: Industry officials say the withdraw limits on ATM cards set by banks will be a strong enough deterrent for those at risk of problem gambling.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
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