American casino industry exploits Coronavirus myths in cashless bid

Jun 29, 2020

On 16th June 2020, MarketWatch reported that the American casino industry has started calling for gambling regulators to “adopt cashless payment transactions on the casino floor to help customers avoid handling money during the coronavirus outbreak.” This call comes in the wake of reports of financial losses in the land-based casino sector following state-wide lockdowns due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

The push is being propelled to the forefront of discussion amid the easing of lockdown measures in areas like Las Vegas by exploiting fears surrounding the transmission of coronavirus through cash. Despite the World Health Organisation coming out to correct the way it was misquoted in the press, and making it clear that cash does not present a major threat to public health, the fake news continues to be exploited by organisations and brands alike. Read more

“Many casinos will reopen after months of being idle which is another reason the industry wants to ramp up cashless payments quickly."

MarketWatch’s article shines a light on the troubling argument in the case for cashless casinos. The two points that hold the heaviest weight in the argument exploit fears surrounding Coronavirus and lay responsibility of limiting spending at the casino with the gambler.

Point 1: Cashless casinos will help to prevent the spread of Covid-19

As stated, cash does not present a major threat to public health. The risk of transmitting the virus through cash is minimal, which has been echoed by Bundesbank Executive Board member Johannes Beermann in March, and the Banco de Portugal in June. Indirectly citing cash as a contributor to transmitting coronavirus only stands to exploit fears which have been exacerbated by the circulation of fake news.

This point becomes entirely redundant in light of news reports surrounding the re-opening of casinos on 4th June 2020 in Las Vegas, where it can be plainly seen that preventative safety measures are not being met or upheld by gamblers or casinos:

"Photos from some of the 30-odd casinos that welcomed visitors for the first time in nearly three months showed gaming tables surrounded by guests, some wearing masks."
"The Economist

Las Vegas, 4th June 2020: Video courtesy of Twitter user @mickakers

Point 2: Cashless casinos will give gamblers autonomy to “easily follow and set their own limits on their gambling activity”

In the USA, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in mass layoffs and stock market declines. A proportion of individuals affected by these issues are expected to turn to casinos as these circumstances “create pressure to win back lost income and savings.” In this instance, these individuals may not follow or set realistic limits to protect themselves from the more serious consequences of gambling. Worse still, for the 10 million gambling addicts in the US, there seems to be no consideration as to how cashless transactions will affect their gambling habits.

Studies have shown those who rely on contactless or digital payment methods are less able to recall how much they’ve spent because the brain does not process the concept of losing money as it would when using cash. To ask individuals in a period of financial difficulty, or who may be addicted to gambling, to take control over their spending limits in a cashless casino could lead to worrying, long-term consequences.

What can America learn from the UK?

Online gambling has highlighted issues in the UK, where it is legal across the nation, with the intangibility of cashless gambling. Legislation already exists which has enforced a £2 spending limit, a reduction from £100, on high-speed fixed betting odds slot machine games in physical betting shops and casinos around the UK. Following the outbreak of Covid-19, where online gambling uptake is soaring, British MPs have called for this legislation to include the virtual, online versions of these machines to further protect gamblers.

Issues surrounding spending limits on cashless gaming and gambling has been an ongoing cause for concern in the UK. In 2018, The Financial Times reported on the social impact of, what they coined, the “hidden epidemic” behind online gaming. This report, amongst many others, followed MP’s then calls for gambling rules to be reviewed as they were not “fit for purpose.” In the same year, 3 online gambling outlets were fined by the UK gambling regulator for “failing to protect a problem gambler” and “failing to spot obvious signs of problem gambling.”

Whether on the physical casino floors or their virtual counterparts, cashless gambling makes it easier for gamblers to overspend or go beyond their limit. The UK has shown that the simple click of an ‘add credit’ button reduces the sense of spending. As reported by the Financial Times, rather than counting how many banknotes they have left, problem gamblers repeatedly clicked ‘add credit’ until they had nothing left. This begs the question, could we see problem gamblers in the USA tapping the card reader time and time again, only to stop when they see their payment has been declined?

The campaign from American casinos exploits coronavirus fears which are being used to create an environment that could lead to budget-breaking spending. These points, which make the backbone of their argument, put undue pressure on regulators to react in a period of uncertainty and should not form the basis of a pro-cashless casino argument which would put gamblers at risk.

Last Updated: Jan 17, 2024