Cashless gaming concerns
Gaming regulators have raised concerns about the prospect of Bermuda adopting a cashless system for its casinos — echoing criticism by a problem gambling expert.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in the United States, said the proposed solution “trivialised problem gambling and appeared to rely on unproven technology unsupported by any evidence or research, which I consider irresponsible and even dangerous”. The idea was promoted as a way for the island to avoid some of the negative side- effects of casinos at a forum on safe and responsible gambling hosted by the Progressive Labour Party in May.
The newly elected PLP government has not said yet if it is still looking at cashless gaming as an option for the island's fledgeling casino industry.
Kim Wilkerson, who hosted the pre-election forum, said at the time: “The position of the Progressive Labour Party is that we are not promoting any particular technology at all. We just want to raise the conversation about technology and about the future of gaming.”
Alan Dunch and Richard Schuetz, from Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, warned that cashless gaming may not be a solution for problems associated with casinos, such as money laundering and gambling addiction.
Commission chairman Mr Dunch said cashless systems were not favoured by casino operators, while Mr Schuetz, the executive director, suggested they could actually increase the problem of gambling addiction because users place more bets because they were “separated from the reality” of using cash.
Mr Schuetz said: “Not only is there no evidence to support this as in any sense beneficial, but there is something to support it as exacerbating the problem.”
Legislation passed in Bermuda in 2014 allowed for a maximum of four casinos on the island, with the first casino licence application due to be heard by the commission today.
The luxury Hamilton Princess Hotel will flesh out its plans for a 12,000 square foot casino, featuring 17 gaming tables, 200 slot machines and an automated roulette machine, at a 2pm session open to the public at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Mr Dunch and Mr Schuetz did not speak to The Royal Gazette in connection with the Hamilton Princess's application but on the broad topic of whether cashless gaming could be beneficial for Bermuda.
The system proposed at PLP's forum at Elbow Beach was one where gamblers would register their details upon entering a casino and be given a card to use at the tables and slot machines.
The meeting heard invited representatives of a Florida-based company, which has developed cashless gaming technology, talk about their product and propose that Bermuda make cashless gaming mandatory.
Jason Seelig and Jamie Lee, from Banyan Gaming, were introduced by David Burt, then Opposition leader and now Premier, as members of a “very esteemed panel”.
Mr Seelig told the forum that “all the problems that are associated with gaming” could be addressed through existing technology that allowed casinos and regulators to monitor every game and every transaction through a centralised, server-based system.
Asked if it should be a mandatory system, Mr Seelig replied: “I think it should be. You have the opportunity right now to say this is the way the system is going to be. If you do that, people will play on that system. A lot of other jurisdictions have been cashless for 15 years.” Mr Lee said casinos on Carnival cruise ships were now totally cashless and passengers used them, because they were a captive audience.
Mr Dunch, Mr Schuetz and Mr Whyte, who is an advisor to the BCGC, attended the forum.
Mr Dunch told the audience that the very first people he met with when appointed chairman were Mr Seelig and Mr Lee.
He said: “I met them at their offices in Florida and they were very persuasive in terms of trying to convince me that their system for tracking was the only good system and the right system for Bermuda. I listened to that quite intently.
“The fact of the matter is that the Casino Gaming Act that the Legislature chose to pass allows for cash and cashless systems both and therefore the issue really is not the regulator. The gentlemen have something to sell but what they have to do is sell it to the operators.
“If the operators get a licence and they say they want to operate a cashless system, that's a matter for the operators. We'll consider their licence application against that backdrop in exactly the same way as we will if they want to operate a cash system. It's a matter for the operators.”
Mr Dunch said this week: “As far as I am aware, there is nowhere in the world where cashless systems are mandated as compulsory. Indeed, they are hardly used at all as they do not find favour with operators.” Mr Schuetz said Mr Seelig and Mr Lee were not experts in problem gaming and the mandatory cashless system they were proposing had not been adopted in any other jurisdiction.
Mr Whyte said after the forum that he attended it with “high expectations”.
He added: “Unfortunately, none of the speakers appeared to possess any training or experience in problem gambling.”
The problem gaming expert said the commission's goal was to have a “comprehensive and culturally-specific gambling addiction prevention, education and treatment framework in place before the first casino is open”.
Mr Whyte added: “The fight to protect public health, promote responsible gaming and prevent gambling problems should be beyond politics.”
The Hamilton Princess, which has applied for its licence in partnership with Colorado-based Century Casinos, declined to comment on cashless and cash gaming for this article.
Asked questions specifically on cashless gaming and Banyan, tourism minister Jamahl Simmons said yesterday: “As the minister responsible for gaming, my main priorities are ensuring that our gaming regulations are in place to assist with passing the current global review process, protecting our reputation as a jurisdiction and ensuring a clean gaming industry that benefits Bermudians first.”
Mr Lee told this newspaper yesterday that Mr Seelig had sold his shares in Banyan in July but still worked as a member of staff at the company. E-mailed questions to Banyan about its cashless gaming technology and whether it was working with the new Government did not receive a response by press time.