Video, coinless slot machines replacing one-armed bandits

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 27, 2000

Coinless and video slot machines are being added at all four local casinos. Customers playing the newest slots can cash out from one machine and use the ticket in another without involving cash. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

Vicksburg gamblers accustomed to watching spinning wheels go ’round and hoping to hear the clang of their bounty are running into fewer of the well-known machines.

The one-armed bandits synonymous with gambling for decades are slowly being replaced at the four local casinos with high-resolution video gaming devices and cashless slots.

“To a lot of people who have played for a long time, they’re more comfortable with the older machines, but times are changing,” said Kurt Rushing, public relations manager at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino.

The first of Vicksburg’s four casinos opened in August 1993 and last year generated $4.5 million for the city, $1.7 million to Warren County and $700,000 for the Vicksburg Warren School District.

While area casinos will continue to use the familiar devices, industry experts say they expect the new machines to become a popular addition to slot floors in Mississippi. Of the 746 slots at Harrah’s today, 203 are video, and 28 are coinless.

The coinless slots being used at all four Vicksburg casinos enable players to use a single ticket to cash out in seconds those jackpots that normally would consist of hundreds to thousands of coins. The tickets are verified by a bar code at the cashier’s window, where they are exchanged for cash.

The process also eliminates the waiting for casino employees to fill a slot machine’s hopper when it runs out of coins.

“There’s no advantage to the casino,” Rushing said. “It’s really about customer appeal.”

But not all players may like the change from coins to tickets. On the downside, some players may miss the excitement of hearing the coins hitting the tray, Rushing said.

“A lot of older players still like the feel of the money,” he said.

Leslie Mabry, public relations manager at Ameristar Casino and Hotel, sees advantages to the coinless slots.

“It’s not only going to save the casino a lot of weight,” Mabry said, “patrons will save time.”

Normally, it takes a technician with a security guard about 30 minutes to replenish the stock of coins once a machine runs out, but it will take just a few minutes to replace the paper tickets, she said.

Ameristar has replaced 560 of its 1,400 slots with video devices, along with adding 30 coinless slots. The modern machines combine high-resolution graphics and animated story lines with the multiline concept and bonus features, all intended to keep players glued to the game.

“It’s just more variety,” Mabry said. “It’s like different rides at the amusement park.”

The new touch-screen video slots feature themes such as “South Park,” “The Addams Family,” Monopoly or “Wheel of Fortune” and are all about attracting new customers and allowing players an option of games, including slots and video poker at the same machine.

“We’re in a new time and age where video games are popular,” said Jose Oakley, senior director of operations for Isle of Capri Hotel and Casino, where 100 of the 760 slots are video and 30 are coinless.

“Everyone in the industry thinks its the new invention of the wheel right now,” Oakley said.

While casinos are racing to keep up with the pace of newer technology, local casinos next month will make the move to the second-generation of coinless slots, “EZ Pay.”

The latest version of the slots will enable customers to cash out from one machine and use the ticket in another without involving cash.

“The machine will never run out of coins because there’s no coins in it,” said Sean Clark, director of marketing for Rainbow.

Ameristar will add 130 of the new devices, while Rainbow plans to replace 100 reel slots with the new EZ Pay the second week in December. Of the 949 slots at Rainbow, 368 are video and 73 are coinless.

Plans are also in the works for 150 more of the new devices at Rainbow next summer, Clark said.

“The industry is definitely moving in that direction,” he said.

Mississippi’s 30 state-regulated casinos have nearly 40,000 slot machines, making it the nation’s second largest slot market, behind Nevada.

Mississippi casinos generated $1 billion in revenue in 1999 from counties along the Mississippi River, while casinos along the coast generated $700 million. A total of $281 million was generated in casino-related taxes for fiscal year 1999 statewide.

Experts say that ultimately the casino slot floor will evolve into a completely cashless environment, where no cash ever exchanges hands.

“Nobody really wants to talk about it, but in the future, you won’t need as many people to service the machines,” Rushing said.

Slot machines accounted for 71 percent of the $32 billion gamblers lost in U.S. casinos last year, according to industry regulators and analysts.