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Times of change? No longer at casinos
Rob Sabo | Northern Nevada Business Weekly
The Atlantis these days uses more coins making change for restaurant patrons than it does for the 100 or so coin-operated slots scattered throughout the casino floor.
Much like the Betamax and film cameras, coin-operated slots are relegated to Nevada’s past. Big properties in northern Nevada still have small percentages of the machines on their casino floors, and older, smaller casinos use them much more frequently, but by and large coin slots have faded from existence.
And with them went a whole way of doing business for casino operators. Gone are entire fleets of casino workers employed as key people, change persons and hard-count teams whose job it was to sort, count and transport the literal tons of coinage in casino vaults. Also gone are a host of service companies that repaired broken machines or manufactured specialized parts, such as acoustic-enhancing coin collection trays designed to maximize sound of slot payouts.
David Farahi, chief operating officer of Monarch Casino & Resort, owner of Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, remembers well the days of coin-operated gaming machines. Before moving into management Farahi worked as a key person on the casino floor, making change and bucking big bags of coins to refill depleted slot hoppers.
Farahi and other northern Nevada casino executives say the near disappearance of coins from casino floors brought improvements in efficiency and guest service. Slot service and slot downtimes, and customer wait times decreased dramatically as casinos eliminated coin jams and hopper refills.
The Atlantis began swapping out its coin-operated devices for ticket-in, ticket out slots in 2003.
Even the 100 or so coin machines left at the Atlantis pay gamblers with a ticket instead of hard currency. Drop teams used to collect coins from the Atlantis casino floor five days a week; today, coins are collected just once a month — and that’s largely to satisfy gaming regulation requirements.
Rob Mouchou, vice president of casino operations at the Eldorado Hotel Casino for three decades, says the property today has no coin-operated slots.
Mouchou estimates that a decade ago 80 percent of service calls on the casino floor involved coin-related issues. One of the biggest hassles with coin slots: the everyday problem of picking up hundreds of spent paper coin wrappers from the casino floor.
Still, Mouchou bemoans the loss of “audio marketing,” with the advent of ticket-in, ticket out slots.
“TITO was not all good,” he says wistfully. “It gave us some efficiencies that were great, but it changed the whole feel of the casino floor. You just didn’t have the bells and the coins — we lost a lot of the audio marketing when we lost those coins falling out. Every casino misses that feeling of activity.”
Steve Gearty, vice president of casino operations for John Ascuaga’s Nugget and a 33-year industry veteran, agrees that the departure of coin slots diluted the overall gaming experience.
“Nostalgia-wise, I do miss that a lot,” Gearty says. “It created its own excitement in a building, and with the departure went the noise on a casino floor. But you had to make the transition.”
The advent of bill validators and ticket-in, ticket-out gaming is directly tied to the newer machines that feature multiple games and denominations, as well as the banks of popular penny slots favored by patrons, Gearty says.
“None of that stuff could have happened unless you made the transition from coin to credits,” Gearty says. “But I still like to hear coins hit a tray, and I was there when Bally made its first deep-dish trays to make it even louder. Even if you weren’t winning, you know when somebody was because you could hear it.”
Back-of-house operations also changed drastically.
Gearty says the whole infrastructure of older casinos such as the Nugget were built to handle coin tonnage. Labor included a sea of employees using weigh scales, counting machines and drop teams filling and emptying slot machines.
The Nugget and Atlantis still have coin-counting machines, but the Eldorado has done away with its coin equipment entirely. Hard count teams primarily have been replaced by soft-count teams counting paper bills.
“It is like horses, or covered wagons — they are a thing of the past,” the Eldorado’s Mouchou says. “It is nostalgia. It will never come back.”
Some gamblers wax nostalgically for the time when coin rolls and $100 racks of silver dollars were essential to playing slots. Also gone are the stacks of coin buckets stationed at every machine, and the cartons of mini hand wipes casinos provided for guests to clean coin-blackened forefingers.
During the Eldorado’s changeover process, Mouchou says the property conducted a study that determined roughly 30 percent of gamblers preferred the coin-operated machines.
The number has dwindled.
“Coins are heavy, dirty and hard to manage,” says the Atlantis’ Farahi. “There is a small group of people who like coins, but I think that group over the years has gotten smaller and smaller.”
Adds Gearty: “When you talk to folks, it is a big piece of what’s missing from the old feel in the buildings, and it has detracted from the excitement on the casino floor.”
Despite about a 90 percent savings in labor, it’s more expensive to operate a casino without coin because the newer technologies are so much more expensive, Gearty notes.
“When you think about the technology to redeem a ticket, everything has to be wired to main servers,” he says. “These main servers have to verify very rapidly every single ticket. All of the printers, card readers and ticket redemption kiosks are expensive. We didn’t save anything in terms of cost.”
Bills may disappear, too
What’s next in gaming? Cashless slots. Gaming is expected to transition in coming years to using debit/credit cards and pre-loaded money cards at machines on casino floors rather than paper bills.
“Technology in a casino will follow any technology that catches on with the general populace,” says Steve Gearty, vice president of casino operations with the Nugget. “As we go more and more to using ATM and credit cards for purchases and go away from cash, that technology will catch on here.”
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