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Best of John Robison

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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.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths 
 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