Posted by: mdmusingsie | May 2, 2015

Las Vegas “Change”

There was a time when Las Vegas was all about change. Any coin you happened to find on the street, behind the sofa cushions, or on the carpet could be placed in a slot machine for a chance at a jackpot. Even the lowly penny could win you a few dollars. Computers were little more than dreams and the machines that gave, or took, your fortune were not sophisticated enough to recognize paper currency.

The economy improved and penny machines became a singular novelty at the odd tourist trap. Then technology improved and slot machines were not only able to process paper currency but they became more than bars, 7’s and the occasional piece of fruit. However, the machines still spit out coins if you won (or cashed out), alerting everyone in the vicinity with the clink of the coins into the metal tray.

In recent years coins have disappeared, no longer even accepted by slot machines. Along with them went the mounds of individually wrapped hand wipes to remove the dirt and metallic smell from your hands as you scooped your winnings (or residuals) into plastic buckets for redemption.

Although people lamented the loss of the sound of coins clanking into the tray, computers and video game-like slots have replaced it with a cacophony of noise and song that will follow you into your sleep. Video slots also saw the return of the penny machine. While you could play a penny at a time, “lines” were the new thing. Geometry students were employed to find all the possible combinations of angles to get from reel 1 to reel 5. Each of these combinations cost an extra coin and you could play more than one coin per line, taking so-called penny machines to a point where you were betting a dollar or more. On my visit last month to what I consider the Disneyland for adults, I noticed that the newest penny machines require a minimum bet of 20, 40, 50, 60, and even 100 per game! The machines have become more sophisticated with the number of possible combinations of winning lines equating to increasing amounts requested to play. Reaching the “bonus round” which is where the fun really begins and the chance of winning increases, has become as rare as a machine that you can play with a single penny. I guess someone has to pay for those multi-billion dollar casino complexes and that’s not going to happen a few pennies at a time.

Armored vans full of coins have been replaced by paper currency and paper tickets that display your winnings, which can either be used in another machine or taken to a cashier or kiosk for redemption.

We accept this change in technology as watching 7’s and bars spin for any length of time can cause brain cells to commit suicide. And who wants to haul around heavy buckets of coins when you can just take your paper ticket without even sullying your delicate fingers?

What really blew my mind happened as a result of a ride on the monorail. After inserting a $20 bill to purchase my monorail ticket, my change was returned in dollar coins. Now for anyone in Canada or Europe, this wouldn’t be a big deal as most of those countries have the equivalent of dollar and even two dollar coins. However, to Americans, dollar coins are as foreign as Monopoly money. For inexplicable reasons, Americans refuse to accept them to replace the paper dollar (despite the fact that the country could save over a billion dollars annually by making the switch).

My dollar coins couldn’t be used in slot machines so I went to the cashier to have them converted to paper currency. To my shock and awe, the industry that kept a factory of mint workers churning out metal coins no longer accepts them, even at the cashier! I was told that they no longer had coin counting machines and therefore could no longer accept coins. As tempting as it was to mention that they didn’t need to even remove their shoes and socks to count the number of dollar coins I had, I resisted.

Instead of using the coins for entertainment, I would need to use them in shops to make a minor purchase or two. My first stop was at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop between the Venetian and Harrah’s. After making my selection I handed the gold coins to the girl at the register who looked at them as if they had just leapt from a Cracker Jack box. She had to have a conversation with her co-worker before accepting them. Although the conversation was in Spanish, I could tell the gist of it was “What the heck are these?” Fortunately the co-worker knew they were legal tender and told her she could accept them. That, people, is how popular dollar coins are in the United State.

So leave your piggy banks at home. Las Vegas slot machines (and cashiers) only take paper currency. The world has moved on and just as the cost of a day ticket at Disneyland continues to reach astonishing levels, so does the price of taking your chance on the slot machines in Las Vegas. (Not that it will stop me from trying.)


I’m a sucker for a castle – wherever it may be – Excalibur, Las Vegas

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