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December 19, 2014

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Cha-ching! This is reel nostalgia

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Patsy Hale shows off the down side of playing coin operated gambling machines, dirty fingers, in the coin slot area at Eastside Cannery Thursday, April 15, 2010.

Slot machines don’t quite clang anymore. That’s because most of the 950,000 slot machines dotting casino floors in the United States don’t spit out coins anymore. New technology eliminated the need for coins and replaced them with paper tickets redeemable for cash. But if you’re an older player feeling nostalgic — or if you’re a newbie wondering how people played in the old days — you can still find coin slots in Las Vegas.

WHAT HAPPENED TO COIN SLOTS?

Technology released in the 1990s revolutionized how makers build slots. Most are now equipped with a pay system called “TITO,” which stands for “ticket-in, ticket-out.” Instead of getting money in return for a jackpot, players get a paper ticket. The TITO system allowed casinos to cut down on the manpower required to refill the slots whenever their banks ran dry. The coin hopper of your average coin slot can hold $1,000 in quarters. That’s a lot of metal when you consider that casino floors often have more than 1,500 slots. Paper tickets instead of hard cash made gambling faster and more convenient for players. Today, the majority of players prefer high-tech slots.

WHY ARE THEY STILL AROUND?

Though most American casinos phased out coin-operated machines in the past decade, some players still love the nostalgia of playing games from the good old days. The Eastside Cannery was one of the first casinos in the country to roll out machines from the 1980s to appeal to older players. New slots feature a soundtrack of digitally manufactured beeps, boops and music from whatever movie, video game or TV show from which the game’s theme comes. But older slots echo with the ping of quarters or tokens landing in the machine’s metal trays. Then players drop their winnings into their cups by the handful. “A certain segment of the population still loves playing the old slots,” said Mike Spinetti, owner of Spinetti’s Gambling Supply and a local collector of casino memorabilia. “It’s really had a resurgence in the past couple OF years.”

HAVE PAPER SLOTS CHANGED PLAYERS’ BEHAVIORS?

Indeed, the migration away from coin machines was motivated by reasons beyond maintenance and having to handle coins on the casino floor and back rooms. From the casino’s point of view, a psychological underpinning to increasing slot play is to separate the player from his money as efficiently as possible. So when a gambler inserts a $20 bill into today’s slots, the money buys “credits.” The gambler is now playing with points, not hard-earned cash. And there’s less incentive to cash out because you end up with a piece of paper, not money. Sure it can be taken to the cash cage. But it’s easier to insert it in another machine and play until it’s spent. Casinos like that.

WILL THEY MAKE A COMEBACK?

A major comeback by coin slots is unlikely because the majority of slot players have preferred high-tech slots since they first appeared in the 1990s. For one thing, their hands didn’t get dirty handling coins. High-tech slots also make it easier for casinos. Back in the day, when coin-operated slots dominated the market, slot attendants kept busy filling machines, fixing jammed coin dispensers and lugging away heavy buckets filled with money.

WHERE ARE THEY?

• The D’s Vintage Room: On the second floor of the D’s casino, there’s a room reserved for vintage slot machines and video poker machines. Here, you’ll find a slot to stick some coins.

• El Cortez: Opened in 1941, the El Cortez remains a nostalgic fixture on Fremont Street with a small collection of coin slots.

• Eastside Cannery: This casino was one of the first in the country to bring back coin slots. Today you’ll find classic titles, including: Deuces Wild, Jokers Wild, Double Diamond and Triple Diamond.

• The Gold Strike in Jean: Of the 400 slot machines at the Gold Strike’s casino, more than half are coin machines.

• Circus Circus, Slots-A-Fun: Gamblers can play $1 tokens on the main casino floor or quarter machines at Slots-A-Fun.

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