Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that more than 350 million Americans carry a debit card. According to the Nilson Report, an industry publication, about 77 percent of Americans have debit cards, a figure that represents 210 million cards linked to bank accounts and 100 million prepaid cards.

A Hotel On Boardwalk? Card It

(AP)

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our wallets feel slim these days -- not because we are destitute but because all of our money is encoded into the black strip on the back of 2-by-3 1/4 -inch plastic cards.

Starbucks no longer even requires a signature for debit or credit purchases. Gift cards are on the top of America's wish lists this Christmas. Life takes Visa. And cash has become such a hassle that it is a nuisance even in our imaginations.

Take Monopoly, the classic board game in which ordinary players can become real estate moguls. It is one of the most popular games ever, with about 480 million players worldwide since it debuted 72 years ago. Its colored stacks of money -- from the white $1 bills to the coveted bright orange $500 bills -- have iconic status.

And now? Get ready to start swiping.

A new edition of Monopoly released this year replaces paper money with electronic bank cards that track every transaction and each player's stash. Even the top-hatted cartoon character Mr. Monopoly brandishes a handful of charge cards rather than a sack of bills.

The game isn't the only one on shelves this holiday season that shuns paper money. In the new Game of Life Twists & Turns, players keep track of their funds with a faux Visa-branded bank card. Mall Madness includes fake ATM and credit cards. It seems cash has become so uncool that kids don't even want to play with it.

"I think this is a case of updating the game play/design to reflect the times," said Anita Frazier, senior analyst with NPD Group, a consumer behavior research firm. "It's just getting a facelift to be a little more current and therefore something that new generations of players can relate to."

More than 350 million Americans carry a debit card, according to the Nilson Report, an industry publication. A recent survey by Visa USA showed that 79 percent of baby boomers and 74 percent of their echoboomer kids believe that society will one day operate without paper money. Gift cards are the most-requested present this holiday, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, besting old faithfuls such as apparel and electronics.

Traditionalists need not fear that money has disappeared altogether, however. Store shelves are well-stocked with classic versions of Monopoly, Life and other board games. The new editions are attempts to "reinvent the games," said Pat Riso, spokeswoman for game developer Hasbro.

"The classic Monopoly with the money in it is something that is an icon, and we would never remove that," Riso said.

That's welcome news to Peter G. Barton, who played in a national Monopoly tournament in 2003 while he was an antitrust lawyer at a District law firm. "Monopoly is the original classic American board game," he said. "It's baseball. It's apple pie."

The shift toward an increasingly cashless society has changed our relationship with money and the way we consume goods. Our wealth (or lack thereof) becomes just a number, printed on a bland receipt spit out from an ATM. Is it any wonder, then, that our average credit card debt has grown from $5,875 per household in 1996 to $9,659 in 2006, according to CardTrack.com?


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