Panel Debates Security of Handheld Betting Devices at Casinos

Atlantic City has long borrowed trends from Las Vegas to lure younger customers to the casino resort.

Casino operators want state permission to do so again by allowing mobile handheld gambling devices at their 12 casinos.

The devices, ranging in size from a handheld computer to a slate or tablet PC, was the topic of debate today among New Jersey lawmakers, Atlantic City operators, and several gaming technology firms. The devices can be programmed to play blackjack, poker, roulette and even slots.

"The question before us today is: What new gaming technologies are out there, and how can New Jersey's legislature and regulators work with Atlantic City casinos to allow these exciting devices in their casinos while still maintaining the integrity of the games and responsible gambling?" said state Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), chair of the Senate Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee.

Buono said today's two-hour hearing was the start of a dialogue on the possibility of introducing the machines in Atlantic City, and examining what steps Las Vegas has taken to make them legal. Last summer Nevada became the first state to legalize the devices for use inside casino hotels.

In New Jersey, the next step is for the five-member Senate committee to decide whether to introduce legislation on the issue.

To gamble using the mobile devices, a casino visitor would need to show identification to obtain one from the casino, and then deposit money into an electronic account. Under the law signed by Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn in June, a wireless-blackjack player could gamble in public areas, such as the bars, restaurants, pool area and convention hall of a casino. The devices could not be used in hotel rooms or other private areas.

A key point of contention in Nevada has been how to prevent minors and problem gamblers from using the devices. The Nevada Gaming Control Board will meet on March 23 to vote on the final regulations covering their use inside Nevada casinos.

Nicholas Casiello Jr., a gambling lawyer with Fox Rothschild L.L.P. in Atlantic City, said there were several safeguards to protect those under 21.

"We could have the devices password-protected," said Casiello, as he testified on behalf of Cantor G&W, an affiliate of New York-based Cantor Fitzgerald L.P., which wants to provide the devices to the casinos.

In Nevada, Cantor G&W has proposed marketing a device that uses a biometric fingerprint reader. If the print does not match that of the person authorized to use the device, it will not work.

Several Atlantic City operators, such as Harrah's Entertainment Inc. and Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., were represented at the hearing.

"This is about staying competitive," said Dave Farlin, vice president of information technology at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, considered the resort's most technologically-advanced casino. "Wireless technology is another mechanism for providing gaming."

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