Verifone Inc. staged a three-day smart card trial at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Hawaii this week, preparing its sales staff and international distributors to sell the new terminals to merchants.

The demonstration took place during the annual meeting of Verifone International Partners, the companies that help the Redwood City, Calif., vendor develop and sell its transaction automation systems around the world.

While the objective was mainly educational, Verifone, the leading transaction terminal manufacturer, will monitor consumers' reactions to the electronic purse system in action. It is said to be the first such trial in a retail setting in the United States.

Although the pilot, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, was limited to meeting attendees, "this is a real money application, set up in bars and gift shops," said Tom Sak, director of business system solutions for Verifone. "It's a live consumer product in that sense."

Smart cards, distributed to the 160 Verifone meeting attendees, were accepted in two gift shops, two restaurants, a leather shop, and two bars at the Ritz-Carlton.

Verifone supplied its SC450 combination PIN pad and smart card reader/writers for the points of sale.

Transaction Terminals Ltd., a Dublin-based electronic purse system distributor, as the system operator, was responsible for transaction settlement. The company provided the same system it designed for a Swedish bank.

Michael Sweeney, managing director of Transaction Terminals, said the Ritz-Carlton demonstration involved a scaled-down version of the Swedish system that is due to go live in August.

The smart cards for the pilot, which concludes today, were supplied by Gemplus Group, the French manufacturer and co-owner with Verifone of the VeriGem research and development venture.

Cash value of up to $250 could be loaded onto the cards through users'credit cards at terminals set up in the hotel for the occasion. Each card came with $25 already on it, but attendees were encouraged to add value and use the cards as often as possible over the three days. Any unused value in the cards will be donated to charities.

Speakers at the event included Mazie Hirono, lieutenant governor of Hawaii, Jody Hancock, executive vice president of global business development for MasterCard, and Hatim Tyabji, chief executive of Verifone.

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