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Casino archaeology

7 July 2009

Let's do a bit of casino archaeology — or maybe anticipate a bit of casino archaeology.

You know how it goes. Archaeologists come across artifacts and try to deduce their use. As times, technology and needs change, objects go out of use and eventually out of public awareness. Will an archaeologist of the future recognize an adapter for a 45 rpm record? How many people under 30 would recognize one now?

Casinos change with the times, too. Especially on slot machines and video poker games, where technology advances so rapidly. Here are a few slot-related objects for the endangered artifacts list. Would a casino archaeologist, or just a player, recognize them a century or two from now? Maybe, but even in present day, they're going, going … almost gone.

Slot handles: Sure, some one-armed bandits still have arms, but they've been just for show for more than a decade now. Pulling the handle just trips the same electronic relay as pushing the spin reels button.

And how many machines even have handles anymore? Slant top machines, those low, wide, comfortable games, don't have them. One of the reasons they can be a little wider than upright games is that no space has to be allowed for handles. Most video slots are unarmed, too, and video slots remain the fastest growing segment of the casino business. Even many upright three-reel spinners are without arms nowadays. If the reel-spinners go totally armless, the change will be just about complete.

Once upon a time, the handles were an important, necessary part of the machines. Early slot machines were mechanical, clockworks affairs, and pulling the handle was what shifted the gears to start the reels in motion. No more.

No doubt a casino archaeologist of future centuries would be able to figure out what a slot handle did if one was found attached to a machine. But what if the handle were found by itself, out of that context, in a pile of casino rubble?

Slot Tokens: Dollar tokens have been with us for ages. Las Vegas casinos started using them because there was no U.S. dollar coin minted from the last of the silver dollars in 1935 until the Eisenhower dollar was first produced in 1971. There had to be something to feed into dollar machines.

But the birth of half dollar, quarter and nickel slot tokens came with the expansion of legal casinos into the Midwest in the 1990s. The first riverboat state, Iowa, opened gaming with a loss limit of $200 per cruise. There had to be a way to enforce such a regulation without searching every customer to make sure they weren't bringing their own quarters into the casino. The solution: Require casinos to use separately minted slot tokens, and make the coin heads on the machines accept only such tokens and not U.S. coins.

That's all changing, of course, with ticket-in, ticket-out payoffs. Nearly all casinos are 100% TITO now. And the tokens are on the endangered artifacts list. No doubt our casino archaeologist would recognize them as a medium of exchange. Coins and tokens have been around for more than 2,000 years, after all. But as for the exact use, as being specific to slots — it'll all be just a memory before you know it.

Coin cups: As I write this and look up to the shelf above my desk, I see a coin cup from the Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Illinois; one from the Chip-In Island Resort in Harris, Michigan; one from Bally's in Las Vegas, and another from the Catfish Bend casino in Iowa.

All were the scenes of fun times, but the Bally's bucket is part of a special memory, one that wouldn't be easy to reproduce in the Midwest. My wife Marcy and I had been married about a year, and we were on our first trip to Las Vegas together. We decided to go casino hopping, walking up and down the Strip, playing a little as we stopped in casino after casino.

Mostly, we played quarter video poker. My memory would like to say the games were 9/6 Jacks or Better, but if I'm being honest I'd have to say that we really didn't know one video poker game from another just yet.

Slots and video poker machines dropped coins for each payoff back then, and on this day, the coins were dropping. At the Barbary Coast, Marcy hit a straight flush for 250 coins. I hit four of a kind at the old Holiday Casino, and also at the Sands. By the time we'd spent four hours casino hopping and were ready to go back to the hotel, we found we were ahead $62.50, plus a few coin cups.

With coins and tokens disappearing from the casino scene, it won't be long before the cups are gone, too. The archaeologist might have a little trouble figuring out just what they were meant to contain. The casino logos are a dead giveaway they belong to a gambling house, but for what? House specialty drinks, perhaps?

Perhaps they'll never know.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski