Sarah Steineker, 50, is stuck to her seat.
She's got a bingo game going, and the "hot ball" jackpot is up to
$14,490. But thanks to mobile gambling regulations that passed the
Nevada Gaming Commission on Thursday, she soon may be able to take
that bingo game with her elsewhere in the casino.
"I could be eating in the restaurant but I'm still involved in
the hot ball," she said Wednesday as she sat with an electronic
bingo device at the Texas Station casino. The downside of mobility
is "you'd probably spend more."
Automated, portable bingo devices like FortuNet Inc.'s BingoStar
have been around since the early 1990s - and are now available in
26 jurisdictions in North America - but they are not allowed
outside bingo halls.
Regulations passed Thursday make Nevada the first in the nation
to approve the use of handheld devices for gambling in any public
area of the state's casinos, such as restaurants and poolsides.
Rules allow a range of games, including bingo, poker, blackjack
and horse race betting. Use in hotel rooms and other places that
cannot be supervised is prohibited.
Advocates say the move will better use resort space that is
increasingly being devoted to non-gambling activities, such as
shopping, dining and clubbing.
But they admit it's not likely to lead to the lucrative world of
Internet betting, which is barred by state and federal law.
"Pools, that are used by people as they are meant to be used,
are not making them (casinos) any money," said Joe Asher, managing
director of Cantor G & W (Nevada) LP, which has pushed to legalize
mobile gambling in Nevada for the past two years. "We can offer a
casino a revenue enhancer."
Casino operators remain hesitant.
Major players Harrah's Entertainment Inc. and MGM Mirage Inc.
and neighborhood casino operator Station Casinos Inc. say they are
taking a wait-and-see approach as the regulations and the
technology unfold. Boyd Gaming Corp., whose holdings include the
Stardust in Las Vegas and co-ownership in the Borgata in Atlantic
City, N.J., said it is unsure about demand for hand-held gadgets,
despite having electronic bingo devices at halls in its Las Vegas
"Even when we brought those (bingo devices) in, they didn't
replace paper," Boyd spokesman Rob Stillwell said. "We're still
uncertain about how much demand there might be."
The process of certifying systems and having field trials will
take at least several months, Gaming Control Board chairman Dennis
Still, at least four prospective manufacturers are plowing
ahead, while keeping their estimates for market demand close to
their chest. Many expect New Jersey to follow Nevada's lead.
"It's nice to hear that Nevada is going to be again leading the
charge forward," Commissioner Sue Wagner said Thursday.
Cantor has sunk "millions of dollars" into development, Asher
said. The company plans to use bond-trading technology that already
has been in use on its "Cantor Index" mobile gambling devices in
Britain since September 2003.
FortuNet said in a January share prospectus that, if mobile
gambling was approved, it would move immediately to introduce more
games for its current clients to install on their BingoStar
devices. "We expect to subsequently expand our marketing efforts
beyond Nevada," it said.
Shuffle Master Inc., a manufacturer of automatic card shufflers,
has partnered with SONA Mobile Holding Corp., to create a personal
digital assistant system that delivers its patented games, such as
Ultimate Texas Hold'em and Three Card Poker.
"This allows the casino to increase the number of wagering
positions in the casino without adding any bricks or mortar,"
Shuffle Master CEO Mark Yoseloff said. "From the player's
perspective, let's say you don't like sitting in a smoky race and
sports book. You'd much rather go out and sit on a patio out by the
pool. You take the device, go sit by the pool, take a snack, and
you can still gamble."
But taking gambling off the casino floor will make it harder to
ensure minors don't wager, said state Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las
Vegas, the lone lawmaker who voted against the bill when it passed
the Legislature last year.
"It's already hard enough to stop kids from playing Keno,"
said Carlton, a part-time legislator who is a full-time waitress at
the Treasure Island resort's coffee shop.
As for mobile devices she has seen, "They look like a little
Game Boy. They look like a toy."
Manufacturers say biometric fingerprint readers and regulations
limiting use to public areas will keep devices out of the hands of
For bingo player Robert Chavez, a 46-year-old Las Vegas bellman,
one of his biggest concerns would be how to claim a bingo win
before the next ball drops if he was halfway across the hotel
property. He also worried that if he could take his bingo with him,
he would indulge in video poker at the same time.
"I'd probably end up betting twice as much."