When I was in middle school, my family went on a random road trip to South Dakota. Not exactly the kind of trip that makes a kid scream, “VACATION!” but it was actually pretty cool. Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Wall Drug, a quick jaunt to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and Deadwood. Deadwood was an old, wild west town, the place where Wild Bill Hickok was shot, and was a ghost town for a long time until gambling was legalized. One day, my parents decided to try their luck at a casino, so my brother and I spent the time having a blast in the arcade upstairs. At one point, my dad came running in, excited to show us his overflowing bucket of coins. He won, he won! A bucket of nickels. Rich we were not, but my dad had fun.
Coin machines keep customers around
While he could still achieve the same thing decades later in a visit to a casino, he likely would not have a similar exhilarating experience because of one thing: slot machines don’t dispense coins anymore. The vast majority of them take dollar bills and give you your winnings via a printed ticket. Perhaps, though, my dad could visit the El Cortez casino in Las Vegas, one of the few places in the U.S. where coin slot machines are still aplenty.
According to a Las Vegas Sun piece on Monday, the El Cortez has about 175 coin-operated machines, the most in Las Vegas. But why? Why not get rid of them after all these years?
According to the casino’s management, the reason is customer loyalty. El Cortez still has customers – primarily senior citizens – who love coin slot machines. Those machines aren’t as profitable for the casino because they require more specialized maintenance and expertise to maintain, but no matter.
“We require more labor,” El Cortez general manager Adam Wiesberg told the Sun. “Our ownership still appreciates that connection with the customer, which many places have gotten away from. They’ve gotten away from it because there’s no money in it, but for us, it’s a legacy that we’re trying to maintain. Our customers are loyal.”
A personal touch
That labor is also key to making customers feel at home.
“When you go to a place where it’s just ticket-in and ticket-out, you don’t really need any (maintenance) staff for that,” said Rick Ronca, the casino’s slots director. “Here, our staff is critical to us. They know each regular customer by name. They greet them and talk to them. I don’t have an employee who’s been here less than eight years. The average is probably about 30 years.”
84-year old Phyllis Henry told the Sun that she only plays the coin-based gaming machines, specifically Double Double Bonus Poker and Joker Poker.
“I guess I like to get my fingers dirty,” she said.
At the time she was interviewed, Henry noted that she had put $100 into the machine in just 30 minutes. She also just won $200 in quarters.
“We have a process where we take away some games every month that don’t get as much play, but we have players who love these machines,” said Wiesberg.
And it’s not just the locals who enjoy the old games. Wiesberg said that tourists come just to pull the handles. On weekends, there can even be lines to play the machines.