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Best of Benjamin Spillman

Gaming Guru

Benjamin Spillman
 

Stray coins add up to big jingle

10 April 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Lately, work for Chris McBeth and Sean Holden is a lot like digging change from the couch cushions -- albeit from a couch that countless guests stuffed with millions and millions of dollars during the past 18 years.

The duo is overseeing the breakdown of about 800 slot machines in the recently closed Nevada Landing casino. They've found nearly $10,000 in spare change that fell into the inner workings of the machines and their stands.

"There is money that has been soaking in Long Island iced teas for 18 years," McBeth said as technicians worked to remove video poker machines from a bar at the nautically themed casino in Jean, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas along Interstate 15.

Much of the money was spilled during fills -- that's when slot technicians refill machines by dumping in coins by the bucketful -- but some coins simply got loose from the mechanisms designed to direct them into bins and hoppers and wound up in the bottom of the machines.

All the money will be counted and added to the final balance sheet once the books finally are closed on Nevada Landing, which shut down March 20 to make way for a planned community.

Inside the casino, which is shaped like a giant ship complete with smokestacks and paddle wheels, decorative lighting still flickered over slot machines that were being torn open with parts strewn over the casino floor.

McBeth, Holden and security director George Repp watched as workers dug coins from inside the machines and placed them in buckets to be hauled to the cash cage. All three work for MGM Mirage, the casino company that owns 10 hotels with 36,000 rooms on the Strip as well as two Jean casinos, among others.

Once inside the cage, the coins are counted by machine and bagged for transport to the bank.

By Friday, workers had counted $9,454.38 in loose change. The coins filled 27 bags, each one weighing about 25 pounds, for a total of 675 pounds of coins.

"It has been piling up," said Mike Shaunnessy, general manager of Nevada Landing and Gold Strike, a casino across the freeway from the shuttered ship property.

Although most people are lucky to find enough spare change to buy a burger or a soda, the amount jingling loosely through the slots at Nevada Landing is minuscule in comparison to the cash the casino once processed.

Although Nevada Landing is small by Las Vegas standards, McBeth said the casino closed with $280,000 in coins on hand and about $1 million in branded slot tokens and clay casino chips. The coins went to the bank, and the tokens and chips will be destroyed.

Shaunnessy said some casinos will honor chips from other casinos, which makes the clay discs an informal currency in a community such as Las Vegas. Destroying chips from a defunct casino prevents people from using them as a means of exchange.

"Once the casino goes out of business ... those chips no longer have value," he said. "The regulators want to make sure they get destroyed."

Back on the casino floor, McBeth, Holden and the other workers picked through the last of the machines. They've spent days breathing dusty air, lugging heavy coins and constantly applying sanitizing gel to their hands.

During a break, the group discussed the transition in the gambling industry from coin-operated slots to electronic machines that dispense paper tickets to be redeemed for cash.

"It can't be soon enough for some people," Shaunnessy said.