Now gamble while on-the-move

Las Vegas, March 24:

Blackjack and bingo games could soon go mobile at Sin City casinos thanks to new regulations approving the use of handheld gambling devices.

Nevada’s state gambling authorities on Thursday agreed to allow the use of handheld devices for gambling in public areas outside of casinos’ gaming halls, such as restaurants and poolsides.

One gambler, Sarah Steineker, 50, was excited at the idea that she might be able to take her game on-the-go. She was stuck to her seat at an electronic bingo machine as the “hot ball” jackpot reached $14,490, or more than euro12,000.

“I could be eating in the restaurant but I’m still involved in the hot ball,” she said Wednesday. But there’s a downside to the increased mobility. “You’d probably spend more,” she said.

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.

With Thursday’s decision, Nevada became the first US state to approve the use of the handheld devices in public areas of casinos. The 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.

Joe Asher, managing director of Cantor G & W (Nevada) LP, which has pushed to legalize mobile gambling in Nevada, said that structures such as pools are not making casinos any money. “We can offer a casino a revenue enhancer,” he said.

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, New Jersey, said it is unsure about demand for hand-held gadgets, despite having electronic bingo devices at halls in its Las Vegas properties.

“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.” Taking gambling off the casino floor will make it harder to ensure minors don’t wager, said state Sen. Maggie Carlton, a Democrat from Las Vegas and 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. Manufacturers say biometric fingerprint readers and regulations limiting use to public areas will keep devices out of the hands of minors.

The process of certifying systems and having field trials will take at least several months, Gaming Control Board chairman Dennis Neilander said. Still, at least four prospective manufacturers are plowing ahead.