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Cheaters may speed need for pricey data-tracking poker chips

Steve Allen | Stockbyte | Getty Images

Gaming chips with tracking technology have been slow to catch on, but a recent cheating scandal at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, N.J., may hasten a change.

That's the hope at least of one company that is launching a system that will allow casinos to not only reduce cheating with RFID chips, but monitor how much a player bets per hand, how long they stay at a table, how much they lose or win per day, and even rate each player's gambling skills.

"Most of the casinos out there use the old chips that are not trackable," said Marco Benvenuti, co-founder of Duetto, which makes the GameChanger Web-based tracking application. "The RFID is not taking the industry by storm."

But tracking is crucial for casinos that are trying to calculate who should be offered a free suite or other perk, he said. "Every single person who goes into the casino needs to be screened on how much they spend," Benvenuti said. "Slot machines are easy to track. You use your loyalty card and [the casino] can see how long you play and whether you win or lose. On the tables, it's harder to tell."

The Borgata is the latest to get on board with new chips. It upgraded at least some of its chips after a player was charged with using fake chips during its Winter Poker Open in January. New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement told the Borgata to pay $1.7 million related to the incident. "The criminal matter remains open," reads the division's statement regarding the incident. "Separately the division is engaged in an industrywide comprehensive review of all the existing tournament standards and those related to future tournament events."

Since the January incident, Borgata contracted with the Game On Chip Co. for the new chips, a spokeswoman for the Borgata told CNBC.

"This was very expensive, but very necessary," Joe Lupo, the casino's senior vice president told the Associated Press last week about the new chips. "In order to have the biggest tournaments in Atlantic City and as the market leader, we need to ensure the integrity of the games."

Benvenuti said cost is one reason more casinos haven't adopted RFID, or radio-frequency identification technology. Not only do the individual chips cost about twice as much as the traditional ones, but to make it work, they need to retrofit tables and cages as well as add hardware, antennae and receptors.

When the Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005, CNet reported the chips alone cost $2 million.

Benvenuti contends that the casinos will eventually realize the new technology will allow them to make their investment back quickly by better targeting their best customers with the best deals (and stop offering expensive perks to the wrong players).

"I think it's going to be very similar to when the slots changed from having real coins to having tickets," he said. "Now it's pretty much impossible to find a slot machine that takes real coins. [But initially the complaint was that] you're basically taking away the satisfaction of seeing the money drop. And then one day somebody did it, and the sky didn't fall, and they started making more money."

—By CNBC's Amy Langfield.

Follow Road Warrior on Twitter at @CNBCtravel.

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