Exclusive interview with Sightline's Jonathan Michaels

"We expect to see every major casino in the US offering some form of cashless wagering in the next 24 months"

Jonathan Michaels, Sightline's SVP Strategic Development and Government Affairs.
United States
Reading time 6:33 min

In an exclusive interview with Yogonet, Jonathan Michaels, SVP Strategic Development and Government Affairs at Sightline Payments, discusses a newly-launched payment solution at Resorts World Las Vegas, developed in collaboration with Mastercard. Moreover, he tackles the industry's shift to cashless payments and how operators can benefit from these technological innovations.

The executive also explains what role traditional payments are called to play in an increasingly digital environment, and the importance of industry players offering varied solutions for their customers. Michaels further discusses digital responsible gaming tools, patron engagement through improved omnichannel solutions, and the industry integration of blockchain and NFT technology.

Sightline and Mastercard have launched a new payment solution at Resorts World Las Vegas, Play+ Mastercard. What are its main features and how does it improve the guest experience? 

This partnership is the first Mastercard issued Play+ card. The Resorts World Las Vegas Play+ Mastercard is part of the world’s most technologically advanced casino experience at Resorts World Las Vegas, where customers can engage across the entire integrated casino resort without the need to carry cash – from slot play, table games, and sports betting to restaurants, retail, and entertainment.

Cardholders sync their Play+ Mastercard card with their smartphones using digital wallets such as those from Apple, Google and Samsung giving them an entirely mobile, contactless experience that provides additional security and fraud prevention, as well as increased tools to empower responsible gaming behavior. Patrons will also have fast access to their winnings through their Play+ Mastercard, which can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted, including at point-of-sale locations on property as well as ATMs nationally.

Do patrons actively seek cashless solutions when gaming? What about guests accustomed to a more "traditional" experience and less tech-savvy than newer generations? Do users tend to engage with additional features allowed by cashless gaming, such as time and spend limits and spending tracking, or do they limit their cashless experience to a basic level?

The pandemic accelerated society’s shift to cashless payments, and gaming is no exception. According to a survey conducted by the American Gaming Association, 54% of gamblers indicate that they would be very likely to utilize a digital or contactless payment option when they gamble at a casino.

Cash is and will still be available for the guests that prefer that experience, but we’re working to deliver digital payments for those who seek it. Our goal is to provide customers with the choice they want when they visit a casino – enabling digital payments options for those who wish to utilize them.

Cashless technology features also empower players that want to monitor their spending. Pennsylvania tells us that nearly 80% of their customers who use responsible gaming tools digitally choose to do so via deposit limits. Having that functionality with Play+ is very important, and our goal is to provide solutions that can revolutionize responsible gaming within a casino.  

The consumer experience in the casino industry is progressively seeing a digital transformation. What are Sightline's expectations for this? Is operators’ demand for cashless gaming solutions growing as expected? What new developments and features could gain momentum?

We fully expect to see every major casino in the United States offering some form of cashless wagering in the next 24 months. Sightline has been helping to facilitate payments in the online casino and sports betting space since 2013, so we have seen firsthand how payments acceptance can help accelerate growth.

With so many casino operators leveraging their digital experience, we know that tying the brick-and-mortar casino experience and the online experience together via omnichannel solutions will be incredibly important

Real-time payments, cryptocurrency, enhanced alternative payment methods, as well as new wallet options, are all coming to the market in the near term

Should we expect both digital and traditional payment solutions to coexist in the casino landscape, or will digital payments gradually overtake the cash experience? How do operators benefit from including cashless solutions in their casinos in terms of, for instance, loyalty and engagement?

In 2020, only 20% of transactions at point-of-sale retail in the US were cash, and that number is expected to drop to 13% by 2024, according to Worldpay. As digital payment options come to market in the gaming space, we expect a similar acceleration in adoption

We know some proportion of casino guests will continue to use cash. Our advice to operators is to leverage digital payments to provide those guests with payment choices when they visit a casino – similar to what our guests enjoy in other retail and e-commerce environments. 

Connecting loyalty programs to digital spending is essential for patron engagement. Sightline’s Play+ cashless solution syncs with loyalty accounts allowing patrons to earn points for all their gaming and non-gaming activity, whether spending on-property or at home through a mobile sportsbook. Sightline’s mobile platform delivers that cashless solution to brick-and-mortar casino patrons and gives them real-time functionality across the property to track their rewards, their comps, their offers, drawings, reservations, and more. Altogether, these features empower operators to offer a unified experience across their brick-and-mortar and digital offerings. This ultimately drives retention by keeping patrons engaged in the entire ecosystem.

How does Sightline make sure its payment solutions are safe within the context of digital fraud? Which are the new challenges brought by blockchain and NFT trends, and what is your approach to them?

Sightline is registered as a money services business in the US, meaning that we are required to follow FinCEN guidelines regarding patrons’ accounts and anti-money laundering. All funds deposited into Play+ are held in an FDIC-insured account and are PIN-protected. With Play+’s fraud protection protocols, patrons are not held liable for unauthorized or fraudulent transactions if their Play+ card is lost or stolen. Sightline has its own risk and compliance team that works shoulder-to-shoulder with our operator partners to protect patron funds

Cryptocurrencies are digital by nature, and Sightline is positioned to lead the way once the industry decides to integrate blockchain and NFT technology for its patrons. We look forward to collaborating with regulators and operators to move forward responsibly. 

Sightline has signed a number of significant partnerships these last months, including IGT, Aristocrat and Konami. What has been the feedback so far, especially at the Resorts World Las Vegas, and how are operators and players benefiting from these complementing technologies? Which effects has the acquisition of casino mobile app developer JOINGO, in June, brought to Sightline in these last months? 

There’s genuine excitement for cashless solutions rolling out across the industry, which is encouraging for us as we collaborate with industry leaders like IGT, Aristocrat, and Konami to power gaming’s digital transformation. Like the industry’s shift from coins to TITO, we understand that cashless adoption will take time, but providing the optionality for consumers is critical. We will continue to work with our partners to improve our products and educate patrons about the benefits of cashless solutions. 

The cashless ecosystem at Resorts World Las Vegas spotlights the impact that payment innovations can have on the integrated casino resort experience and serves as a model for collaboration, compliance, and activation for the entire industry. Today’s consumer wants to do everything from their mobile device, so integrating Sightline’s mobile loyalty app enhanced our ability to foster a mobile-first experience for the patron.  

Sightline became Nevada’s first FinTech unicorn in August, earning a $1 billion+ valuation as a private business. How would you describe the company’s evolution so far and its future outlook? 

Sightline has continuously risen to meet the changing needs of the casino gaming industry. From delivering payments solutions to the New Jersey online casino market following its launch in 2013, to helping the industry gain payments acceptance following the PASPA decision on sports betting in 2018, to our launch of the first cashless system at Boyd Gaming’s Aliante property earlier this year, we will continue to innovate our solutions to meet the needs of the industry. 

The past year has been transformative for Sightline, and we have no intention of slowing down our progress to revolutionize payments in the gaming and hospitality industries. With the gaming industry projected to grow revenues to nearly $150 billion in the next several years, Sightline’s solutions are well-positioned for growth.

The company participated in the latest edition of G2E, showcasing its cashless portfolio and the JOINGO mobile loyalty platform. What was the presentation like? Co-CEOs Joe Pappano and Omer Sattar participated in panels within the expo. Which were the key takeaways and feedback? Does the company plan to participate in other upcoming industry events?

G2E was a successful week for Sightline in so many ways. We won Payment Solution of the Year at the Global Gaming Awards, showcased our revolutionary cashless solutions at our booth, and enjoyed connecting in-person with partners and friends from the industry. Cashless was the hottest topic at the show, and even Nevada Governor Sisolak touted the importance of digital payments in supporting innovation and responsible gaming.

Our panel participation highlighted Sightline’s leadership in driving innovation within our space, whether through building cutting-edge products, collaborating with regulators, or working to unlock new capital investment opportunities.

We’re looking forward to sponsoring the Player Protection Symposium during SBC Summit North American November 30 through December 2 and having a continued presence at industry events in 2022.

Rodrigo Capeans
by Rodrigo Capeans
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