What will be the cost of cashless gaming?

May 1, 2024
Clyde Mooney

As the biggest ever trial of cashless gaming is rolled out across New South Wales, the realities of the harm-reduction initiatives are taking shape, as Crown’s lauded goal to be the ‘safest casino’ sees a thousand jobs slashed.

The Independent Panel on Gaming Reform is currently overseeing the expanded cashless trial, which began at Twin Towns Services Club last month.

After the Minns government received a flood of support by venues wanting to be involved in the mooted trial, the original election promise of 500 EGMs was scaled up to accommodate the additional operators.

The system adopted was informed by the results of an earlier trial, using digital wallet technology, installed on 144 machines at Wests Newcastle.

A report was compiled for Liquor and Gaming NSW by University of Adelaide Professor Paul Delfabbro, stemming from interviews after the trial with 77 patrons, as well as management at the host, Wests Newcastle, and with Aristocrat, which designed the system.

It was noted the fact that the program at Newcastle, which ran from October 2022 to June last year, was just one small trial, on limited machines in one venue.

Once registered, the technology allowed players to transfer money to a digital wallet from a linked bank account, using their phones, which could then be used on machines. It allowed players to set limits, see spending data in real time, self-exclude or simply take a break from play, and also access gambling support services.

A total of 260 patrons registered for the trial, and the interview respondents gave positive feedback on the convenience of not having to interact with people, and more than half said they could monitor their play.

While there was overall support in response to the responsible gambling features, the organisers found low actual usage of these features during the trial. 

Specific operational issues were identified, such as the sign-up methods, staff involvement and quality of Wi-Fi connections, and the report suggested that given the “resources required to onboard patrons” to the new technology, it may be more suited to larger venues.

Participants were deemed to have greater control and ability to monitor their expenditure, the report concluded, but the interaction recorded suggested the technology generally had “limited impact on player behaviour”.

Both Wests management and Aristocrat offered that they believe cashless gaming will be inevitable in future venue operations, and stress the sign-up process needs to be streamlined, possibly by using existing membership data.

Delfabbro’s report offered that the “principal challenge” is the enrolment process, considered too slow by all involved.

It also cited that people generally had a tendency to revert to the old legacy system rather than use the new technology, and that this would be a challenge to any trials where people have access to other options.

In the wake of its curtailed operations after being found guilty of money laundering in 2021, bringing condition of requiring cashless technology on all its EGMs, Crown announced in December its somewhat contradictory goal of being the ‘safest casino in the world’.

The program has involved the Casino operator spending over $20 million developing technology that enshrines cashless play, by forcing players to set binding maximum limits, limits on losses, and on the amount of time they want to spend gambling.

Anyone wanting to play one of Crown’s 2,500 EGMs will need a swipe card and be willing to pre-commit, and the Casino expressed its greatest challenge would be educating casual players and tourists.

Crown Melbourne chief executive Mike Volkert suggested the system was unlikely to significantly impact the casino’s revenue from poker machines. He also said they were “willing and happy” to share information gleaned with other venues.

But this week Crown Resorts announced it would be slashing around 1,000 jobs, representing five per cent of its workforce, in addition to the almost 100 positions cut from the Sydney venue mid-2023.

Both Melbourne and Sydney are undergoing “Transformation Plans” and Perth is said to be in “ongoing remediation”.

Chief executive Ciaran Carruthers points to “softer economic conditions” behind the restructuring, while also conceding influence from “restrictions on gaming play in Sydney and Melbourne”.

The results of the assessment of the Wests Newcastle trial were provided to the Independent Panel on Gaming for consideration in the expanded trial, which will be a more accurate representation of the effects of a cashless system, when the majority of participating venues will have all machines operating the cashless technology, and players will not have alternative options in the same spaces.


Tags

cashless gaming, Crown Casino, Twin Towns Services Club, Wests Newcastle


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