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Ask the Slot Expert: Lamentation(?) for Las Vegas Buffets

23 June 2021

Question: Thanks for all the information in your last issue: Buffets: Gone But Not Forgotten or The Bean Counters Win Another!

Answer: Las Vegas re-opened three weeks ago. That really just meant that the remaining Covid mitigation efforts -- like social distancing and capacity restrictions -- ended. As much as the local news station I watch tried to make a big deal of the event, the only companion report it had for the headline was a remote at a Vietnamese restaurant where the owner said she was glad that she would be able to from 80% to 100% capacity.

Las Vegas may be open for business but, as my reader points out referring to last week's column, most buffets aren't -- especially in the locals scene.

Execs from local powerhouse Red Rock Resorts, parent company of Station Casinos, said in an earnings call a few weeks ago that they had no plans to re-open the buffets at their casinos. Instead of continuing to subsidize the buffet, they said they would invest the money where they make money -- the casino floor.

As I wrote last week, I'm not shedding too many tears over the possible death of the buffet. Sure, I've used my share of buffet coupons -- and even paid full price a few times -- but I've been able to live without buffets for the past 15 months and I think I can continue to live without buffets.

Buffets are great for variety. Bob wants Italian, Carol wants Chinese, Ted wants Mexican, and Carol wants American. Everyone can get what they want at the buffet. Even for one person, I can try spoonfuls of Sausage and Peppers and Beef with Broccoli, and get half an enchilada and a BBQ rib. And maybe a few U-Peel shrimp on the side.

Dontcha love the way they try to turn making you do the work into a selling point? It's really more like: "You want shrimp, you can peel 'em. You're lucky they come deveined."

But then again, I come from New Jersey. The Garden and gas-station-attendant state. Pump your own gas? Illegal. When I worked at the Pan Am data center in northern New Jersey, co-workers who lived in New York always got their gas in New Jersey. "It's cheaper -- and they pump it for you!"

Another buffet advantage is probably a major reason buffets should not return. Buffets aren't so much all you can eat as all you can waste. How many plates piled high with uneaten food have you seen server remove from a table?

One aspect of the buffet I did enjoy was being able to stay almost as long as you wanted. You can take as long as you want to not eat that mountain of food you took.

As long as there were empty tables in my section, I felt comfortable staying for a while. My party was not keep another party from getting seated.

Considerable waste is one strike against the buffet. Another is the food. Most buffets offer variety and quantity, not quality.

Like the Chicken Parm Action Station at one casino's buffet a few years ago. A freshly made Chicken Parm instead of an overcooked one that has been drying out sitting in a pan on the steam table for the last hour sounded good. The cook fried the cutlet until it was golden brown, and then topped it with a handful of shredded mozzarella from a culinary-size bag. The gritty, dry texture from the anti-caking blend reminded why I never buy shredded cheese.

And the time my cousin brought to my spaghetti dinner a nearly empty container of Kraft grated Parmesan cheese -- the one in the green, cardboard container -- so we could use it up reminded why I buy a wedge of Parmesan at Costco and grind my own as needed.

I like pancakes, but not when they're so dried out that they form a crust and even the fake maple syrup (I've learned the code that products called "syrup" and "pancake syrup" are not maple syrup) won't re-hydrate them.

I admit that I haven't tried many expensive buffets -- certainly not recently. The quality may be there. But there are (well, were) some mid-price buffets I could usually count on to have near-restaurant quality food.

I could usually rely on the small buffet at the Westgate, which was closed more often than it was open the past few years. The Chinese dishes were always good. I was really disappointed it didn't the short ribs one time. And the brisket with creamy horseradish sauce was good if you could get a piece that wasn't all fat.

The AYCE buffet at the Palms was also on my short list. Maybe because they presented small plates of food instead of large trays. The French Onion soup was always good. The BBQ station was also a regular stop for me, but I did prefer it when you could choose your own ribs instead of having to ask a server for them. I guess too many people took too many and wasted them.

The Palms AYCE model was going to be instituted at the Red Rock buffet, but then Covid.

The Red Rock buffet was the site of two of my buffet disasters. One involved spilling half my bowl of Split Pea soup on the salad bar counter.

The other was a sausage taking its revenge on me. I was trying to cut it into smaller pieces, but I had difficulty cutting breaking through the casing. The sausage slipped out from under my utensils and flew off the plate onto my shirt, bringing a wave of red sauce along with it. I looked like I had just been shot in the stomach. Nevertheless, it was a good sausage.

When Mirage Resorts owned The Mirage, it played a recording of Steve Wynn as you rode the escalator in from the street. Steve extolled the virtues of the property, including the "Las Vegas tradition of the buffet."

Both are more or less gone now.


Speaking of more or less gone now, what things has your casino still not brought back? Do you think they'll ever bring them back? Or, as my reader said, have the bean counters won?


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 
 06/22   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