Scott Dowty, PCIP, Payments Executive and investor, explains the importance of your cash access strategy in the first installment of a two-part feature.
Providing access to cash or cash equivalents within a land-based Gaming Establishment (GE) may seem simple—just place a few ATMs, POS terminals, and self-service kiosks, and you’re off to the races, right? Maybe so, and interestingly, most GEs and executives in the Cash Access (CA) space simply don’t know better and haven’t embraced the core dynamics of the business to truly understand key drivers.
I’ve worked in the payments space for more than 20 years and in the Cash Access industry for 15. In travelling to 70+ countries, I have visited hundreds of GEs, spent thousands of hours observing CA transactions, and analyzed patron behavior ad nauseam. I have responded to countless CA Request for Proposals and brainstormed with payment card associations across the globe. This background, combined with experience listening to countless earnings calls during which executives and analysts rationalize successes and failures, has convinced me that the essence of CA transactions has never been accurately articulated or understood.
The importance of a comprehensive cash access strategy
All geographic markets and industry verticals are not created equally, and in the payments industry, CA services may be the most dynamic. The US, Macau, Switzerland, UK, South Africa, and Argentina markets, for instance, each have unique CA infrastructures and requirements. Further complicating matters are various state, provincial, SAR, and jurisdictional anomalies that impact CA acceptance and viability. These include gaming commissions, monetary authorities, PCI, AML, bankcard issuance, cross-border (foreign) traffic, fraud, crime, telecom, and local cash availability (Bureau de Change), just to name a few.
Dig a little deeper and the success or failure of a truly comprehensive CA strategy starts and ends at the device level. The Point of Interaction (POI), Point of Sale (POS), Automated Teller Machine (ATM), and Self-Service Kiosk (SSK) should not be treated equally and deserve independent evaluation and customization. When architecting a GE’s CA strategy, considerations include the number and placement of POI devices, screen flows, user interface, dispense limits, approval limits, self-service, opt-out, declines, referrals, bill mix, bill redemption, TITO, language, software, player card data, responsible gambling attributes and more.
As we think about CA from the device perspective—and ultimately what is most important to the GE, the patron experience—we must define the role CA plays within the organization. Most, if not all, large GEs recognize that CA is a critical and growing line within the P&L, representing millions in high-margin revenue. For many operators and unique jurisdictions (UK), the supreme objective is to provide valued patrons convenient access to cash at competitive fees to facilitate, their play, entertainment and a commitment to responsible play. In case, patrons’ actions, habits, or behaviors within the GE and in and around the POIs is the critical measure. This, in essence, is the intelligence that GEs must harness to deploy a successful and well thought-out CA strategy.
Before an operator defines a CA fee at the corporate level, by location, or at the POI, we must understand the psychology behind how targeted patrons will perceive the fee and ultimately accept or decline it. Consider:
• Does increasing CA fees result in less cash to the gaming floor, or does reducing fees result in a surge of cash to the gaming floor?
• How does this play out across individual POIs?
• Is the patron chasing his or her bet or exhausted all or most of their CA options?
• Is the patron even aware of all the CA options?
• Does the patron have a marker or credit?
• How much cash did the patron bring?
• How much was his or her last CA transaction?
• Can the patron fish for an authorization approval in private versus at the cashier?
• How long has he or she been playing?
• What is his or her average bet and average tip after a win?
• What was his or her budget for the trip?
• Does behavior and or data lead management to believe patron has a gambling problem?
This all plays into the concept of “fee elasticity”: lower CA fees equals more cash to the floor, thus more incremental gaming revenue. This hotly debated topic becomes harder to support when you understand the psychology behind when, why, and how patrons accept to pay what some suggest are exorbitant CA and associated transaction fees. GEs must strive to be informed and vendors of CA services must accelerate their development to provide solutions capable of facilitating sophisticated analytic tools and dynamic fee options. Properly designed solutions dilute the argument that lower CA fees increase cash to the floor. There is no reason why a well-armed GE cannot increase CA fees and deliver incremental cash to the gaming floor while providing an exceptional patron experience.