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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Gaming Technology: No Change for the Bettor

15 December 2003

The rapid replacement of coin-based slot machines with coinless ticket-in, ticket-out technology is the biggest change to hit locals casino slot floors since bill validators, casino operators agree.

For customers, the devices mean less time waiting for jackpot payouts, hopper fills and coin redemption. They also no longer get dirty hands from handling coins.

"From a customer service perspective, ticket-in, ticket-out is a no-brainer," said Marcus Suan, Coast Casinos vice president of slot operations. "The customers don't just want it. They demand it."

Coast's three Las Vegas locals casinos -- The Orleans, Gold Coast and Suncoast -- have about 8,000 slot machines.

More than 95 percent of those devices employ ticket-in, ticket-out technology, by far the highest percentage among the valley's leading locals casino operators.

"The people like it; they're tired of standing around waiting for their money," Coast Casinos Chairman Michael Gaughan said. "When people want to go to the movies, or to dinner, they don't want to worry about whether their machine has enough coins. With tickets, they know how long they can play, and we end up getting extra time (spent playing the machines)."

For locals casinos, the ticket-in, ticket-out technology allows significant cost savings and presents an opportunity for improved customer service.

At least 25 percent fewer workers are needed on the slot floor, while workplace injuries related to moving the heavy bags of coins have dropped significantly, operators say.

The savings from not having to keep thousands of coins in each device's hopper adds up as well.

In 1999, the Fiesta beta-tested the valley's first local casino coinless system, followed in 2000 when the Suncoast opened with almost all ticket-based slots.

Since then, the Palms and Green Valley Ranch have opened with ticket-based slot floors, and all of the city's major locals operators are well on their way to converting their slot floors to all or almost all ticket-based devices.

The effect on slot bettors, slot floor employees and casino operations has been tremendous, they said.

The ticket-in, ticket-out technology transformation has been exceptionally well received by customers, Sam's Town director of slot operations Andre Filosi said.

Sam's Town began converting its slots from coin-based to ticket-in, ticket-out about two years ago, and expects to convert the entire floor by the end of 2004.

About 55 percent of the Boulder Strip property's 2,750 machines are coinless.

"The convenience is so fantastic for the guest," Filosi said. "If they're running late for bingo, they can get the ticket and go rather than wait."

Video poker player Carol Marie, playing nickel Double Double Bonus Poker at The Orleans, said she won't sit at a machine that's not coinless.

"I don't know why anyone would want to play with coins," Marie said. "My hands don't get dirty like they used to, and if I get a four-of-a-kind I don't have to worry about whether the game's got enough coins to pay without waiting for a change girl."

Customers like being able to feed tickets or cash into the machines, allowing players easily to jump from slot to slot.

The change has also improved customer service, Filosi said.

"The employees are running around less," he said. "It really takes pressure off our employees."

Sam's Town achieved a reduction in its slot work force by waiting for attrition to cut staff.

"Early on, the (slot work force) was afraid the change would happen fast, and people would (lose their jobs)," Filosi said. "But we took our time with the conversion. Some people have been reassigned to other jobs, and we've lost some through attrition. So now there's not as much concern about the conversion process."

When coinless devices were first introduced, locals casino customers weren't convinced they'd like the technology either, he said.

"They were in three camps," Filosi said. "A small percentage hated it, a small percentage loved it, and a lot were neutral. Now a much smaller percentage hates it, and the neutrals are learning to love it."

The ticket-in, ticket-out technology has another big advantage for operators, he said, allowing many new small denomination games, including lots of penny and 2 cent games that would be impossible or impractical to operate with coins.

Station Casinos, the valley's biggest locals operator, expects its more than 18,000 Las Vegas-area slots to be about 55 percent to 60 percent coinless by the end of the year, and to have almost all of its slots converted by the middle of 2005.

"The days of coin are gone," Station Casinos Chief Operating Officer Steve Cavallaro said. "The customer is getting so used to TITO technology. They demand it."

The cost of converting slots has dropped as the technology's taken hold, Station Casinos Vice President of Corporate Slot Operations Dan Roy said, estimating that the per-device conversion cost has dropped from about $2,000 to between $1,200 and $1,500.

The cost is justified by the improved customer service and operational cost savings, Cavallaro said.

"We've been up front with our team members," Cavallaro said. "They know there'll be less people doing those jobs, but we've had a hiring freeze on those jobs since the beginning of 2003."