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Ask the Slot Expert: Buffets, slot tickets and the Olympics

25 August 2021

Question: Always enjoyable reading your column. I read and take note of your thoughts (meaning I neither agree nor disagree, but open-minded enough to think about this commentary), other times I feel it apropos to share some of my thoughts.

I will start with the Olympics and end with Las Vegas Buffets (the column you shared thoughts on the return of buffets or possible demise of them in many Las Vegas casinos).

I also viewed some of the Olympics this year, though not as much as in past Olympics. I am decidedly more interested in Summer versus Winter sports. Overall, I enjoyed most of what I watched. I know there is a time difference from Japan to the US, NBC will replay competition as if it were 'Live'. It doesn't matter as long as no one sends out a 'Spoiler' post, text, or news blurb!

I was amused with your comments on volleyball, since I have had some personal history with the sport. I also was initially uncomfortable with the change in scoring, eventually accepting the 'Rally scoring' as a positive progressive change. It creates an end to a competition, sooner, similar to Tennis scoring. Even Jeopardy penalizes a contestant for an incorrect answer.

Did you like the casino conversion to Voucher payment instead, of coins at first? I know I didn't initially, totally different mindset now. I only feel for the staff who lost their jobs with no need for roving 'change attendants'.

A nice time to segue to Las Vegas buffets. As in my previous writings, I believe buffets to be an asset to casinos.

As I had written, feeding a large number of people (the 65-75% or more of tourists, conventioneers regulars, locals) who were able to get a decent meal at a reasonable price and within a short time. Almost everyone can find something to eat, especially with a mixed group where everyone has a different taste than everyone else. Locals entertaining out-of-towners -- buffet!

In past years, I've eaten good buffets at Boyd properties, Station Casinos and a few others. Bordering on 'Great' were Bellagio, the Wynn's, and Caesar's. Unfortunately, these buffets HAVE reopened and are charging extremely high rates, some almost double the old prices. I cannot rationalize eating at a buffet, charging $50 to $75 is ever going to meet my expectations. I'd prefer going to a traditional restaurant setting at those rates.

I just read that Las Vegas is on track to have their best, largest grossing year ever by the end of 2021. That is a STRONG indication that casinos should be able to fund those buffets that bring in the millions of people who are necessary for the bottom line; the average Jane or Joe who loves to come, visit, maybe win a little, or lose a lot....and still feel good they were given a 'Comp' to the Buffet, to sooth the feelings a little. (Psychologically, you feel better with a full stomach than an empty one!) As a casino exec, this is the type of client they want, one who will come back!

Again, I strongly encourage those 'Suits' making these decisions to think twice about the trends going in the wrong direction. I hear the newest 'upchargeable fee' is the tack on for a reservation for a table, or venue 'With a View'. Really? I don't even want to joke about pay toilets. All I want are for decent buffets to come back!

Answer: Thanks for the kind words.

I assumed that the "Live" bug in the corner of the screen meant that the coverage was live. I don't think I saw it on anything that I knew was not live.

I found it impossible to not find out the results of some events that were aired (on NBC, at least) on tape delay. I got many news alerts on my phone when something noteworthy happened at an event.

Speaking of spoilers... Up until a few years ago, ABC had the rights to show the Indy 500. When I first started watching the race, instead of showing the race live, as has been done since 1986, ABC showed edited coverage of the race in primetime.

ABC also used to air a brief (30 seconds, maybe a minute) news recap right before the primetime lineup. On Indy night, right before showing the edited race coverage, the newsreader said, "And finally, the winner of this year's Indy 500 is...."

That's a good point about rally scoring making a volleyball set end sooner. One of the pages I read explaining the change to rally scoring said that it would make the length of a game predictable and that would help with scheduling venues, matches and coverage.

Did I like the elimination of coins? Yes, immediately. I didn't get any pleasure from scooping tokens out of the coin tray and getting my hands covered in grime and ashes. Let's not forget the joys of waiting for hopper fills and carrying buckets of coins to a redemption booth.

I once told my friend who was the slot director at the Desert Inn that they needed larger buckets. He said that they do have larger buckets, but they were so heavy when they were filled with coins that the redemption personnel were getting injured when they dumped the contents into the coin counter. They put the large buckets in storage and used only the smaller buckets on the slot floor.

Years ago, some suit at Treasure Island didn't like the look of buckets sitting on top of slant-top machines. Every time I would leave a bucket on top of a machine, a slot floorperson would move it to between two upright machines. If you were playing a slant-top, you might have to make a mad dash to a carousel to get a bucket.

TI had installed machines just outside the casino in the corridor from the parking garage. I was playing a machine there and I wanted to cash out. I was cursing myself for forgetting to bring a bucket with me. I got up and ran over to a nearby carousel to grab a bucket. My back was turned for less than 10 seconds and someone was already about to sit down at the machine and play my credits.

The casino industry was already looking at ways to decrease or eliminate the use of coins before 2000. One idea I saw demonstrated was the Cash Cage. When you cashed out, the machine would pay most of what you were owed with paper money from a bill dispenser and spit coins from the hopper for the balance.

Thank heavens Ticket-In-Ticket-Out (TITO) won.

We wouldn't have the video machines we have now without TITO. The video revolution started with penny and nickel machines. They would not have been as popular if we were still carrying around buckets of coins.

Not only are the change people and their carts gone, but so are the people who worked the coin redemption booths, the people who collected the drop buckets under the machines, and the people who worked the hard count room. Well, the jobs are gone. The people may have been reassigned.

But that's progress. My father had to give up on his dream of following the family tradition of being a pin setter in a bowling alley. He became a research chemist instead.

Last week Rampart Casino sent me an email announcing that its buffet was going to reopen. The next day, I went to Red Rock and saw workers putting up wallboard to close off the area that had been their buffet. I said to one of the slot floor supervisors that the bean counter was serious when he said that Station Casinos was not going to reopen the buffets in their casinos. I asked her what was going to be there instead and she said that it was going to be a new high limit room.

Suncoast got a new management team about five years ago. The new team had a little reception to introduce themselves to the emerald (the highest level in the slot club at the time) players. One item addressed was overhauling the buffet. They never got around to it and now who knows if they ever will.

We might have a bifurcated buffet ball game in Las Vegas. Strip casinos, which don't want to give their guests a reason to leave the property, will have a buffet, possibly with a hefty price. (I wonder how easy it's going to be to get a comp at a $75 buffet.) Many locals casinos won't have a buffet. They don't care as much if their guests leave. The guests are probably just going home.

Besides, they'll be back in a few days.


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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