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Ask the Slot Expert: The Return of Las Vegas Buffets

16 June 2021

City of Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman was on GMA 3 last week to proclaim that Las Vegas is fully open again and it is back. There were plenty of shots of the strip and the Welcome to Las Vegas sign during the segment. Co-host T.J. Holmes said something like "Can't wait to see you in person on the strip" at the end of the segment.

One problem. The Las Vegas strip and the Welcome to Las Vegas sign aren't in the city of Las Vegas. Mayor Goodman has no jurisdiction over them.

This Wikipedia page, List of Casinos in Nevada, shows how few casinos are in the City of Las Vegas. The list is short by two. It says that Rampart Casino and Red Rock Casino are in Summerlin. Summerlin isn't an administrative jurisdiction. It's just the name of a neighborhood or community, if you can consider a 35-square-mile area a neighborhood or community. As far as I know, Rampart Casino and Red Rock casino are in the City of Las Vegas.

Buffets are back on the strip -- at least in some casinos. Wicked Spoon is open at the Cosmopolitan, the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace re-opened a few weeks ago. The buffet at the MGM Grand re-opened at about the same time, as did the buffet at Circus Circus.

I was clueless my first trip to Las Vegas. I was going to CES with a friend. I booked accommodations through the CES room finder and ended up at a long-gone motel called the D.I. 500. For dinner, I remember that we walked to a not so nearby McDonald's one night. We probably ordered pizza from one of the multitude of food delivery flyers shoved under the door each day another night.

When I got back home, a Vegas-savvy friend said we were crazy for not going to one of the buffets in a nearby casino. At the time (early 1980s), the buffet prices were still reasonable. I remember seeing the buffet prices advertised on the marquees. I think we thought that there must be a catch, so we never went to one.

I worked for Pan Am at the time. We had first class seats for the flight home. We had just stowed the bags of brochures that we had picked up at CES -- and never looked at again -- when a gate agent came on board and told me that we had to move back to business class. Brooke Shields and her mom had just shown up for the flight.

Brooke came back to the row they moved us to in business class and watched The Big Chill. (This was back in the day when you could watch any movie you wanted, as long as it was the one being shown.) She signed our boarding passes.

A few years later, with another friend for another CES, I enjoyed the fine dining experience at the Circus Circus buffet. This friend likes his food plain. He once sent back a hamburger because it had ketchup on it. In all fairness to him, he did clearly order it plain -- no ketchup, no pickle, no nuttin'. Just patty and bun.

His favorite dish at the Circus Circus buffet was something he called Ravioli Concretion. I think this buffet might have been the inspiration for the buffet in Vegas Vacation.

The buffet at Wynn Las Vegas is scheduled to reopen -- again -- on July 1. It briefly reopened last year with diners ordering from a menu, but that model was as popular as aioli at a vampire buffet, so it closed again.

The only buffet that is open at a locals casino is at South Point. Although Red Rock Resorts (Station Casinos) isn't saying "never again" on buffets, on a recent earnings call the CEO, Frank Fertitta, said, "We’re going to put the dollars into the place where we make money. It’s going to be a focus on slot machines and table games, our primary business. We’ll have several restaurant options. We will not have a buffet."

The CFO, Stephen Cootey, added, "I think we can fairly say [the buffet] will never return."

Scoot Roeben, founder of Vital Vegas, has said that casinos are using COVID-19 as an excuse to eliminate freebies and he doesn't see budget buffets coming back any time soon. Casinos don't want to take the hit on subsidizing the buffet. Las Vegas locals, employees disappointed Station Casinos buffets 'will never return'.

As for the other locals powerhouse, Boyd Gaming taking ‘thoughtful’ approach to restaurants amid high profits.

I can see some logic in the lack of buffets in locals casinos. A tourist casino needs to provide dining options at different price levels for guests who don't have the ability to easily go somewhere else.

Dining isn't necessarily part of a local's visit to a casino. While the casino would like locals to stay -- and play -- longer, the casino may not win enough from the extra play to cover the loss on the buffet.

I have mixed feelings about the apparent demise of the buffet in the local scene. Rarely did I find a dish that I felt was really good. I was happy if I found something that was pretty good. Most of the food was just okay.

Buffets are good for a group, even when it's only two people. Everyone can get the cuisine they're in the mood for. Everyone can get many different things.

In terms of the price, I think you were mainly buying the ability to have as much as you want of as many different things as you want. If you're willing to give up choice and gluttony, you can get better quality dishes at a restaurant for about the same price, and maybe even less.

As a local, I almost never paid for a buffet. I used to get many breakfast/lunch buffet vouchers at one casino. Free is the right price, but if I had to pay or had a flexible dining credit, I could get a better breakfast sandwich or hamburger at the snack bar for less than the cost of the buffet.

Maybe the time for the locals buffet has passed. How many times have you seen someone with plates with heapin' helpin's of some dish and then the server taking most of it away uneaten?

"I felt pangs of guilt watching the sharply dressed servers clear half-full plates of food from tables. But such is the buffet life." Las Vegas buffets are open. What it’s like to step into line again

What do you think? Are locals casinos missing the boat by not reopening their buffets?


It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

I've picked up a lot of consulting work the past few months. The best of times.

I've been so busy, though, I haven't been able to go to the casino. The worst of times -- at least for the casino and for my re-qualifying for upper-tier status.

Put on your casino marketing hat and think about what should happen to my offers, specifically free play, multiple points days, and gifts.

For reference, assume that I played in a casino at least once and often three or four times a week and easily qualified for a premium (if not the top) tier in the players club B.C.E. (Before Covid Era) Recently, I might go a month or more without playing in a casino or playing just a few times a month. In addition, I may only play about half the action I used to play per visit now. And finally, I'm not really a valuable customer for the casino because almost all of my play is on its best video poker machines.

What does your formula do to my offers?

Increase my free play? Give me more point multiplier days? If what we've been offering hasn't been enough to get him to come in, maybe a little more will do it? (Absence makes the heart grow fonder.)

Or decrease my free play and number of multiplier days? Maybe even make me have to play for a gift now? His action has gone down and offers are based on action. (Out of sight, out of mind.)

What would your marketing department do?


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

Click here for the latest Covid data.

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