- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Check cashing is business as usual on Fridays at many Las Vegas casinos, where residents flock to exchange their payroll or government checks for cash at no charge. The service puts people and their money inside the casinos, but it also draws some criticism from those in and out of the industry.

Nearly all the folks waiting Friday afternoon inside the Boulder Station casino were clutching paychecks. A waitress offered free margaritas to the growing crowd beneath catchy banners — “Just cash your check, spin and win?” “Everyone’s a winner … Guaranteed!” and “Free drink with every paycheck cashed.”

Many in the line leave the casino without spending a penny of their hard-earned money. But others drop dollar after dollar into the ubiquitous slot and video poker machines. Some lose everything.

“I come and leave,” said John Humphrey, 35, an electrician who said he once lost his entire $1,400 paycheck playing the slots after cashing it at a casino. “It hurt on bills. I don’t do that anymore.”

Patrons come to avoid the fees of check cashing centers and banks’ requirement that they have an account. But unlike banks, casinos lure their customers with free booze and an array of gimmicks. People can win food and more money by playing games, such as Poker Payday, Paycheck Bonanza Plus and Paycheck Poker.

Some of the biggest practitioners of this time-honored Nevada trade are Wall Street darlings like Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming, companies that own casinos popular with locals.

At Boulder Station, testimonials hang above the cashier cage from Gilbert, Michael and Dietmar, the last claiming he doubled his paycheck. The Orleans casino boasts the Paycheck Party Machine that allows players to pick their favorite game: poker, slots or Keno and “Win up to $250,000.”

On its massive parking deck, the Palms hotel-casino displays a scantily clad woman holding wads of money with the slogan: “Win up to $10,000 instantly.” The casino also advertises in the local newspaper.

The biggest companies in the industry — MGM Mirage, Harrah’s Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment — do not cash paychecks. In Las Vegas, these gambling goliaths depend on tourists rather than local residents to drive their earnings.

Kevin Mullally, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, said people should not do their banking at casinos, which are for entertainment.

“I’m sure that some would argue that it’s a convenience factor for the patron,” he said. “But it’s just inconsistent with the environment that we would like to create in Missouri. You don’t go to the movies and cash your paycheck. You don’t go to the bowling alley and cash your paycheck. When you start allowing those type of deviations, then it becomes something other than that.”

Scott Scherer of the Nevada Gaming Control Board said he was approached by a company that wants to go a step further and install automatic loan kiosks inside casinos.

“My gut instinct is I’m opposed to this but I’m open to listening,” he said. “It could be a combustible issue for the industry. If you’re cashing a paycheck, it’s money you’ve already earned. Do we want to allow this one step further — gambling away money you haven’t earned?”

Rob Hunter, a clinical psychologist who runs the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas, said his patients don’t need more temptation to gamble. “The idea of having an entire check in $100 bills and two free drink coupons is inherently dangerous for the problem gambler,” he said.

Arnie Wexler, former executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, agreed.

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