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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Another helping of Vegas buffets

30 June 2021

Question: I am always looking forward to your weekly articles. I find most to be thought provoking, always interesting, so when you 'touch a nerve', so to speak, I like to offer my unqualified, albeit honest opinion.

To put things in perspective, (I have contributed letters recently) I live in the Chicago area which offers me the chance to gaming opportunities to about a dozen casinos within a 2 hour drive (my self imposed limit). It should be noted that the casinos furthest away, (Pottawatomi, Horseshoe, Blue Chip, Four Winds) are usually the most enjoyable. They are substantially larger than nearby IL casinos, offer more gaming options, and until Covid, offered decent buffets. All buffets have been closed and interestingly, I have visited these casinos much less (that also includes going less to all Chicago area casinos, too).

This brings us to Las Vegas. My most recent trip was this past March. Casino buffets were still closed. To be fair, in my past 4-5 years, I have limited my LV buffet consumption to max, 2 per trip. Usually one or two in a casino, and one at a local restaurant (Makino's is a favorite). Prior to those 5 years, I would enjoy a Bellagio, Wynn, Mirage, or another mid-high end range buffet. More recently, I preferred a Red Rock, Orleans, Mainstreet buffet that would satisfy the hunger pangs, as long as I don't gorge myself, I can eat with moderation; not having to think I needed to justify the high cost of a Wynn buffet by eating as much as I could (as you said; no time limit, so we would spend 1 1/2-2 hours at Wynn or Bellagio). One of our chums used to say it was a good 'money management' tactic. I don't see the value now of these buffets or Caesars, which I noticed has INCREASED the buffet cost, so No Thanks!

To your point on waste, I personally do not waste food. If I take it, I will definitely try to eat it, otherwise I won't take it. (an exception is poorly prepared food, or the carving station server gives you a full 1 inch slab of Prime Rib, when all I wanted was a 1/4 inch slice for a taste). I also recall seeing a documentary on PBS or the History Channel on how leftover buffet food is recycled to feed livestock or other valid non-wasteful purpose.

In other discussions with my fellow comrades, we surmised that Casinos benefit with buffets with a very good service-people to patron ratio versus having to feed all those hungry gamblers in restaurants or food courts. The buffets keep the paying gamers within their walls, so they don't leave to go to McD's or Denny's, because if they did, they aren't coming back that day. And what better 'Customer Service' gesture to offer a guy who just lost $500 at the BJ table with 2 buffet comps for him and his companion, so they can eat free AND come back to try and recoup (LOL!). That is an edge the Casino has better than any slot or table game can offer.

I hope all those extremely smart Casino management teams are reading this; I'm only trying to help you pack your businesses again! I know I usually plan for a 2-4 hour session before our planned eating time, then another 2-4 hour session to 'settle the tummy'! I will be back in LV the first week of November, possibly another trip sooner, I may be contacted with Buffet Comps thru my email.

Thanks and may all your wins be as large as your Buffet appetite!

Answer: Thanks for the kind words.

I'm so glad you mentioned those buffets. I've never been to Wynn's buffet, and it's been many years since I've been to the buffet at the Mirage or Bellagio. In fact, the one and only time I ate at the Bellagio buffet was on opening day. I had just hit a progressive royal on a video poker machine. I had so many hundreds that I couldn't fold my wallet. It was mid-afternoon. If I hurried I could get into the buffet for the lunch price at get the dinner offerings.

That's a Buffet Advantage Play technique I learned from Las Vegas Advisor or Jean Scott or both. If you go towards the end of the time range for one price, you can frequently get the food for the next meal. Lunch for the breakfast price. Dinner for the lunch price. I guess the buffet bean counters caught on to this ploy. Many buffets close (well, closed) for an hour or more between price points to thwart this play.

Red Rock's buffet had always been a cut above the rest of the buffets in locals casinos. There was a relationship between the buffets at Red Rock and at Palms. I'm probably going to get some of the details wrong, but I think some of the people at Red Rock created the AYCE buffet at Palms. And then Red Rock Resorts (RRR) was going to bring the AYCE model (small plates instead of large catering trays) to Red Rock's buffet -- and then along came Covid.

Speaking of AYCE, a few years ago (2019?), I guess RRR was freaking out about how much it spent on renovating the Palms and how the property wasn't working. To get more people through the doors, Palms was giving away buffet comps hand over fist. "You get a buffet comp. And you get a buffet comp. And you and you and you...."

The comps were unusable for lunch or dinner unless you were willing to wait in line for as long as it would take you to eat. A few times I drove to Palms and left after I saw the line. I realized that even going for an early dinner was not feasible. The few times I used my comps, I went for breakfast.

Orleans upped its buffet game a couple years ago. I can't speak for Mainstreet, but the other buffets you mentioned fall decidedly above a C grade on the bell curve of buffet quality.

I don't waste food either. I usually follow the tapas or dim sum method of buffet servology. I take a little bit of a lot of different things to find out what's good. The idea is to go back and get more of the good stuff, but I've usually had enough after I've sampled everything that looked good. I've rarely gotten something that was inedible. Maybe the dish wasn't great, but it wasn't inedible.

Well, I can think of two that I just could not eat. A Chinese dish at the Westgate. It was just too spicy for me. And ribs in one of the early days of the AYCE at Palms. It may be controversial, but I like my ribs with the meat falling off the bone. Others like their ribs with more chew. These ribs were so undercooked, I couldn't even get the meat off the bones.

Do you think there's a relationship between the price of the buffet and the amount of uneaten food? In my unscientific survey, mainly from memory, I think I've seen less waste at the higher-priced buffets. Higher price should mean better quality food and less selection regret.

It's great that buffets are doing something with the uneaten food. It would be even better if they didn't have to overprovision in the first place.

Maybe this is an American thing. Before networking was built into Windows and everyone had a LAN in their homes, I developed software for Banyan Vines. My company would attend the Vines conferences, which alternated between the U.S. and Canada.

Vendors were allowed to partake of the conference catering after the attendees had gotten their shot at it. We quickly learned that we were going to be hungry in Canada.

Let's talk desert. The Canadians figured that each person would take, say, 3-4 of the petit fours. Many marines went to these conferences. They would pile 8-10 of the little deserts on their plates. By the time the organizers let us at the serving tables, the only things left were empty trays and smushed eclairs.

I don't know about the cost-benefit ratio of the buffet. The guys with the calculators at RRR say they lose money on their buffets. I don't know for sure, but I doubt the casino or a restaurant operator loses money on a meal served in a casino restaurant or food court. Maybe the buffets would breakeven -- or even be profitable -- if less food ended up in the busperson's cart.

Keeping the player on the property is always given as a justification for the buffet. I wonder whether the calculus is different for tourist versus local casinos. Locals are going to be back in a few days any way. "Do we really need to subsidize their meals, especially if they don't play enough after eating to pay for the subsidy? Let them leave. They'll be back in a couple days anyway."

It's completely different on the strip. Those casinos don't want the tourist to leave the casino. Tourists who go to another casino to eat may do their after-meal playing at that casino and go right to their rooms after they get back to their home casinos.

I have a feeling that it is not on your short list of Vegas buffets to go back to on your next visit, but the buffet at Excalibur is scheduled to reopon on July 1. (I've stayed at Excalibur. I'm sure I've eaten at the buffet, but I have no memory of it.)

The buffet will be open Thursday through Monday, from 8am to 3pm. I saw the logic in the limited days, but not in the limited times until I found out that they're using a brunch menu. Strange they wouldn't serve dinner, but at least the times makes sense.

Prices are $25 for adults and $15 for kids weekdays, and $30 adults and $16 kids weekends.

This good news for you just in: The buffet at Bellagio is scheduled to reopen on July 16, seven days a week from 7a to 3p. The timing, of course, means it's another brunch buffet. Adult prices are $40 Monday through Thursday and $46 Friday through Sunday.

The buffet price leader is Ceasars Palace at $65, the same as before the pandemic. It's a dinner buffet, Thursday through Monday, 4p to 10p.

You can brunch at Bellagio and then go across the street and have dinner at Caesars for only $111 per person.


Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths 
 06/29   33,470,212   601,808   332,529   5,670   87,507   2,057   3,020   24 
 06/22   33,382,705   599,751   329,509   5,646   75,420   2,157   1,930   22 
 06/15   33,303,285   597,594   327,579   5,624   95,797   2,293   1,560   17 
 06/08   33,207,488   595,301   326,019   5,607   114,250   3,762   2,271   21 
 06/01   33,039,238   591,539   323,748   5,586   123,333   3,709   991   27 
 05/25   32,969,905   587,830   322,757   5,559   174,125   4,234   1,676   26 
 05/18   32,795,780   583,596   321,081   5,533   223,966   4,230   2,301   27 
 05/11   32,571,814   579,366   318,780   5,506   303,856   4,687   2,541   33 
 05/04   32,267,958   574,679   316,239   5,473   343,348   4,908   2,559   40 
 04/27   31,924,610   569,771   313,680   5,433   383,163   4,958   2,747   65 
 04/20   31,541,447   564,813   310,933   5,368   464,556   5,072   2,590   36 
 04/13   31,076,891   559,741   308,343   5,332   480,061   5,321   2,986   57 
 04/06   30,596,830   554,420   305,357   5,275   448,935   7,124   3,084   38 
 03/30   30,147,895   547,296   302,273   5,237   439,510   6,793   939   63 
 03/23   29,708,385   540,503   301,334   5,174   388,928   7,446   1,863   53 
 03/16   29,319,457   533,057   299,471   5,121   381,695   8,362   3,078   81 
 03/09   28,937,762   524,695   296,393   5,040   480,902   11,573   2,413   83 
 03/02   28,456,860   513,122   293,980   4,957   463,356   14,129   2,835   75 
 02/23   27,993,504   498,993   291,145   4,882   451,083   13,923   2,406   162 
 02/16   27,542,421   485,070   288,739   4,720   602,906   21,411   4,149   198 
 02/09   26,939,515   463,659   284,590   4,522   779,305   21,828   5,444   244 
 02/02   26,160,210   441,831   279,146   4,278   1,007,777   22,004   7,249   249 
 01/26   25,152,433   419,827   271,897   4,029   1,312,565   23,385   10,324   250 
 01/19   23,839,868   396,442   261,573   3,779   1,317,119   21,318   11,324   279 
 01/12   22,522,749   375,124   250,249   3,500   1,790,345   22,660   17,217   294 
 01/05    20,732,404   352,464   233,032   3,206   1,499,561   18,435   14,655   233 
 12/29   19,232,843   334,029   218,377   2,973   1,258,540   15,460   12,493   186 
 12/22   17,974,303   318,569   205,884   2,787   1,656,411   18,537   16,472   239 
 12/15   16,317,892   300,032   189,412   2,548   1,494,763   17,247   18,825   229 
 12/08   14,823,129   282,785   170,587   2,319   1,375,502   15,483   18,418   175 
 12/01   13,447,627   267,302   152,169   2,144   1,114,175   10,286   15,942   121 
 11/24   12,333,452   257,016   136,227   2,023   1,197,199   10,784   14,130   106 
 11/17   11,136,253   246,232   122,097   1,917   1,099,790   8,501   11,115   65 
 11/10   10,036,463   237,731   110,982   1,852   767,645   6,838   8,868   68 
 11/03   9,268,818   230,893   102,114   1,784   588,207   5,809   5,936   35 
 10/27   8,680,611   225,084   96,178   1,749   492,026   5,585   5,238   (10) 
 10/20   8,188,585   219,499   90,940   1,759   401,037   5,053   4,501   48 
 10/13   7,787,548   214,446   86,439   1,711   351,270   4,886   3,910   48 
 10/06   7,436,278   209,560   82,529   1,663   306,965   4,962   3,232   36 
 09/29   7,129,313   204,598   79,297   1,627   303,616   5,136   3,058   54 
 09/22   6,825,697   199,462   76,239   1,573   288,070   5,370   2,196   82 
 09/15   6,537,627   194,092   72,043   1,491   250,265   5,404   1,825   65 
 09/08   6,287,362   188,688   72,218   1,426   282,919   5,638   2,734   92 
 09/01   6,004,443   183,050   69,484   1,334   251,790   5,291   3,237   104 
 08/25   5,752,653   177,759   66,247   1,230   330,411   7,889   4,076   125 
 08/18   5,422,242   169,870   62,171   1,105   358,071   7,463   4,973   114 
 08/11   5,064,171   162,407   57,198   991   365,353   7,203   5,776   117 
 08/04   4,698,818   155,204   51,422   874   418,683   7,532   7,367   109 
 07/28   4,280,135   147,672   44,055   764   460,996   7,042   7,130   91 
 07/21   3,819,139  140,630  36,195  674  463,682  5,395  8,181  57 
 07/14   3,355,457   135,235   28,744   617   422,861   5,102   5,607   57 
 07/07   2,932,596   130,133   23,137   560   351,367   3,394   5,006   24 
 06/30   2,581,229   126,739   18,131   536   278,941   6,406   4,367   26 
 06/23   2,302,288   120,333   13,764   510 
John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots