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‘That’s a sexy sound, right?’: Though rare, coin-operated slot machines still a draw

Updated October 1, 2022 - 11:13 am

The noise is unmistakable, though it’s heard at fewer and fewer casinos these days.


That’s the sound of money — metal coins hitting a metal tray — signifying slot or video poker winnings at one of the dwindling number of coin-operated machines still in use in the Las Vegas area.

For some, the sound brings nostalgia for the city’s past. For one couple, the sound meant their wedding was paid for.

Neil and Audra Robison of Salt Lake City came to Las Vegas recently to remarry and stayed at Circus Circus, the only casino on the Strip still offering some coin-operated slot machines. (The California Hotel and El Cortez downtown and the Skyline casino in Henderson also have coin machines.)

Two days after saying “I do” again, the Robisons found themselves shoveling dollar tokens into plastic buckets after Neil hit the $1,000 jackpot on one of the coin machines.

“That’s a sexy sound, right?” Audra said as the jackpot coins starting falling.

The Robisons collected 500 $1 tokens, then a slot attendant came over to handle the rest of the winnings.

“When it was coming out, I didn’t realize that I hit the jackpot, then I looked up (at the payout list),” Neil said. “It’s surreal.”

Shana Gerety, senior vice president of operations for Circus Circus, said the coin machines have proved to be a popular attraction that differentiates the casino from others on the Strip.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday, a Saturday, a Tuesday,” she said. “They’re always packed.”

The machines’ popularity recently prompted Circus Circus to install a bank of $5 coin slots, which required the casino to have a new coin made. The casino has eight $5 machines to go with 27 $1 slots and eight quarter machines.

A labor of love

The El Cortez has the most coin-operated machines in the Las Vegas area, about 100. The Skyline has 86, a casino official said, and the California has a little more than 30.

Adam Wiesberg, the general manager for the El Cortez, said the coin machines simply make sense for the El Cortez, which has been open for more than 80 years.

“Our draw is always our history,” he said.

That history does come with some headaches, though. The coin games are much more labor-intensive and thus not as profitable as the modern machines that dispense winnings with paper tickets, Wiesberg said.

The coins have to be sorted, and machines have to be refilled multiple times a day, he said. Finding a slot mechanic who knows how to service the older machines is difficult, and getting replacement parts is sometimes impossible, he said.

The El Cortez has some quarter and half-dollar machines, and just getting the coins can sometimes be a problem, Wiesberg said.

“You ask for more half-dollars, and the bank is like, ‘What?’” he said.

But any problems are still outweighed by the benefits of having the machines, Wiesberg said. The coin customers are reliable. They show up almost every day and were some of the first customers to return after the casino reopened after the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know how long we can keep (the machines),” he said. “But we’ll keep them as long as it’s feasible.”

‘My nostalgia for Vegas’

If the machines ever disappear, Las Vegas won’t be the same for James Knight. He was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in the 1980s and frequently played coin machines with his friends.

Knight, who now lives in Columbus, Ohio, said he always makes it down to Circus Circus to play the coin slots when he comes here on vacation.

“It’s what I do every year when I come back,” he said. “That’s it. It’s my nostalgia for Vegas.”

Knight’s wife, Sha-Zar, said she just wants to play where she’s winning, but James Knight said winning on the coin machines can’t be beat.

“You hear that sound?” he said as coins started to fall. “You get addicted to that sound.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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