How can I accept credit cards at special events?

There are three ways to accept credit cards at special events when there is not a standard phone line available. A wireless terminal, a virtual terminal, and using a manual card imprinter with duplicate receipt forms. This article discusses the pros and cons for each situation from high volume to the annual event user.


The newer wireless handheld terminals have three key features. First, if unable to make a connection, the unit will encrypt and store the transaction for later transmission. This removes the problem frequently cited by merchants in the past that their units didn’t work in certain buildings and they’d never know if it would work until the got to the venue.

Second, the user can enter their pin number if using a debit or check card. With debit usage now at 40% plus, this is essential if you have a large consumer buyer base. If you are mostly B2B, then it’s not as important. However, because we are seeing a large increase in debit even among corporate buyers, if your volume is over $250,000 annually, then I recommend investing in units that have integrated debit pinpad. Don’t be misled by semantics in the product description. A terminal that  ‘accepts debit cards’ or has an ‘integrated pinpad’ is not the same as a unit that has integrated pinpad to process pin-based debit transactions. Look for this specific text in the description:  Uses internal PCI PED compliant PINpad for PIN entry DUKPT, 3DES. This is needed to accept pin debit transactions plus be compliant with 2010 pin based debit PCI Compliance requirements.

Third, the customer can sign on the terminal itself so there is an electronic signature record. The merchant needs a processor or system to store the signature also. The merchant needs to print a receipt for the customer, usually via a small printer that attaches.

Under the scenario above, the merchant has the greatest ‘potential’ to reach the lowest interchange rates possible for payment processing. This is a card present,  retail transaction.


The merchant key enters customer purchases via a laptop and a secure web page. The receipt is printed to a special receipt printer or a laser printer.

Unless you are getting a manual imprint of the transaction as required for a KEY ENTERED Retail transaction, this should process as a card not present, mail order/phone order transaction.


The merchant opens a connection to their Point of Sale system. It could be a desktop software program or a secure web page. The merchant swipes the credit card via a card reader, usually attached via usb,  to the computer to process the transaction. After the transaction processes, the merchant gets a receipt.  The merchant needs to print 2 receipts. One for the merchant to sign and keep for internal records, and one for the customer to keep. This is a card present,  retail transaction. It has all the benefits to help keep processing costs down, except that you cannot process pin based debit transactions. There are ways to attach a pinpad to the computer, provided all the elements- hardware, software, and processor- work together. However the cost to use this process doesn’t usually justify it. If you are going to spend that much money, would a wireless handheld have more benefits by providing more freedom than requiring a laptop?

note: You must give buyers a receipt with the sellers name, date, amount of charge, item description and a transaction number. How you deliver that receipt- pre-printed with partial completion and then filled in, or printed on site is up to you.  A very reliable volume thermal receipt printer with usb connection and simple set up is $225. A mobile receipt printer – smaller but easier to travel with- can cost up to $495.


Consumer shows, high dollar volume: wireless terminal with integrated pin debit and processor that offers pin debit rates.

Consumer shows, low volume: Virtual terminal.

Consumer shows, high volume, once per year:  Card reader attached to laptop.

high dollar (event admissions, B2B, and silent auctions): wireless terminal with integrated pin debit and processor that offers pin debit rate

Vendor and manufacturer specific solution recommendations:

WIRELESS HANDHELD CREDIT CARD TERMINAL with PCI PED certification (payment card industry pin entry device) Verifone Vx610 , NURIT 8000 and Way MTT 1581. The Nurit 8000 has a built in printer, electronic signature capture, and works with GSM/GPRS), and Wi-Fi. The Verifone Vx610 has a built in printer, and works with GPRS and CDMA.  The Way MTT 1581 has an optional mobile printer, Store and forward transactions feature,  and works with GSM. All can be used with mobile phone service at additional cost.

We do not specifically endorse any single product above. These products meet our recommendations for features, however, we do not have specific experience as to the reliability of any specific product.  To purchase any of the above, please give us a call, no merchant services contract required.

Virtual terminal: For B2B- Orbital Virtual Terminal (Chase Paymentech) or CenPOS.  For pricing, please call. Recommendation varies by volume, transaction type and other business needs. The Orbital Virtual Terminal requires a new merchant account, CenPOS can be used with your existing merchant account, minimum fee $50 per month.

Swipe device: Magtek Card reader is our hands down favorite. Please don’t buy one used on eBay or other unknown sources. At $75, we highly recommend you buy one new from a reliable source. This solution also requires a gateway to receive the data. Other than CenPOS, it is essential to speak to a consultant before choosing a gateway for the connectivity service. Not all gateways will pass through the essential data needed to achieve the lowest payment processing costs. Presumably, most will be equal relative to security.

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