Sign of The Times

E-Signatures are changing the way we do business for Tribal Casinos

Proof of identity and intent has typically been demonstrated with a handwritten signature by pen and paper for years.  As technology has become increasingly integrated into our daily live the traditional act of writing has been somewhat forgotten.  Yet so many Tribal casinos still rely on handwritten signatures causing discrepancies, frustrations, and more importantly lack of accountability.  Here, Doug Parker sheds a new light on how technology is changing the pen and paper process.

Can you read my writing?

My son is a first grader.  Not to brag, but he is rather sharp.  Most days, I don’t spend much time looking at his papers because they are always good grades.

A couple of weeks ago, is teacher sent home a note informing me that she had to have a long discussion with him about taking his time and writing neatly.  His first bad grade was in handwriting, of all things!

Interestingly, my first reaction to the note was this:  if handwriting is his only weakness, we are in good shape.  After all, it is 2020 and we are writing less and less every day.  By the time he is an adult, there may be no need for handwriting at all.

However, I am the parent and duty calls.  He did get a bad grade and we had to address that.  I started to describe to my young son why it was important that he write neatly.  I began using examples from my own job when I have to write things out.  I explained how even I have to sign my name on papers and how important it is for people to be able to read that.  I could tell he was trying very hard to listen and follow what I was telling him.

Looking into his big brown eyes full of trust, I began to doubt my own words flowing from my mouth.  Is this true?  Is writing your name that important?  After all, it is the year 2020.

As I considered the past decade in the casino industry, I acknowledged at least historically the importance of legible signatures.  Regulations dictate the need for signatures and for years the narrative has been that the signature, and sometimes the badge number, are the purest form of attestation.  And, typically handwritten.  But have they always been neat, legible, and consistently clear?

Most signatures cannot be discerned, we lost the element of accountability that the established controls created.  MICS 543.18©(3) clearly states “The cage and vault inventories must be counted independently by at least two agents, attested to by signature, and recorded in ink or other permanent form…”.  This process establishes a couple different controls.  First, the count by two independent agents gives us an extra level of accuracy.  If the two can agree on a total, the chance of that money being miscounted decreases significantly.  Secondly, the attestation by signature in permanent form can be translated into a single word:  accountability.  This control mechanism is literally assigning accountability to the agents.  It is essentially forcing the agents to take ownership of what they are documenting as a count.

Handwriting may not be a completely lost art, but it is seemingly becoming less and less important in the modern world.

I can’t say that I am going to completely ignore that note from my son’s teacher, but I think he might be on to something.  Like I said…he is rather sharp.

What was your name again?

My dear friend and colleague repeatedly tell the story of allowing her teenage daughters to take her bank card to make purchases at local large –chain stores.  When they got to the check-out, they would always giggle and sign her name as “Mickey Mouse” or “Daffy Duck”.  Occasionally, they would get creative and create silly alias.  No one ever questioned it, or asked for an ID.  No harm, right?

That signature is intended to be authorized verification of who is using the card.  In these cases, there is no malicious intent or fraud happening, but the fact remains that the signature really does not serve a purpose if this behavior is acceptable.  The “requirement” to sign is just a formality; people going through the motions.  The harsh reality is that often our policies and procedures are sometimes so rigid that we lose sight of the purpose of what we are doing, and simply do it because we think we must. Giving no real acknowledgement of the impact our signature accounts for.

Let’s face it, this is not just happening with personal bank cards at large chain stores, but also right there in your casino operations.  The handwriting has never, ever been top notch and often what results in headaches, lost time, and frustrations.

If Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck performed the required two independent counts of cage and vault funds, would audit teams recognize it? If the signatures are not assigning accountability to the agents, they seem to serve no purpose at all.  That is a problem on a couple of distinct levels.

The first problem as I mentioned previously, is the lack of accountability.  A signature is essentially assigning accountability as an internal control critical to the integrity of the specific activity, but really to the entire operation.  If that signature serves no purpose, there must be a different control in place to keep people accountable.

Unfortunately, not all employees consider the impact their handwritten signature dictates.  Least not in the year 2020.

The front runner to replace this internal control:  Technology.

The Tribal Casino industry has begun using technology to replace countless internal controls that have historically been handled manually.  As technology is embraced, do not miss the spirit of the regulation…is accountability appropriately assigned?  I think it absolutely can be.

As technology progresses, the internal control solidified by handwriting and handwritten signatures are being replaced by digital alternatives.  Not only does it appear that this is acceptable, early results of such initiatives prove that paperless solutions cut costs and increase efficiency in multiple ways, effectively increasing the bottom line.

How do we define "signature"?

How do we define “signature”?  If the argument is that a signature should serve a purpose, the signature itself should not be defined by how it happens, but why it happens.

In other words, signing “Daffy Duck” on a credit card machine is potentially okay because that signature is attesting to the accuracy of the transaction.  If a “Daffy Duck” signature means as much as my actual name, we have carried out our purpose.

For this to be true, though, that signature must be compared to the “correct, legal” signature of the account holder.

A signature card or some other established standard would be necessary to add validity to the signature itself.  The reality is these measures are a rarity—if not completely absent—in Tribal casinos.

A few years ago, our team began conducting extensive research on signatures to define what was acceptable and what was not.  After reviewing several legal precedents, we determined that an electronic or digital signature is as acceptable as the good old-fashioned stroke of an ink pen.

We found implications of this research to be significant.  If we do not need a pen to paper signature, can we just stop the necessity of paper?  Can we move towards strictly digital transactions?

That is exactly what we did.  And as a result, we saw immediate cost reductions on things like paper, printing, overtime, storage and more.

Doug Parker
Business Consultant, Finley & Cook

Doug Parker has been with Finley and Cook for twelve years.  In this time, he has gained an understanding of all aspects of gaming and the correlating control standards that are in place to protect the assets of the Tribes and the integrity of gaming.  He has extensive experience with various back of house systems, creating effective audits to be in compliance with necessary control standards, reconciliations of accounting information, and analyzing the performance of slot machines. He has also handled drafting Standard Operating Procedures for a diverse range of clients.  Currently, Doug works in the Compliance division, helping clients with ensuring the controls they have in place are putting them in a position to be successful in their endeavors. He has shared his knowledge on several different gaming-related topics at local and national conferences, including NIGA, OIGA, GPIGA, NTGCR and OTGRA.  He continues to solidify his knowledge of casino processes.

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