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Best of Mark Pilarski
Deal Me In: Where'd ya go?11 July 2014
Any time you see a slot machine disappear from the floor, from the casino’s point of view, that machine was misbehaving, or better stated, underperforming.
All machines, Leigh, need to show reasonable results or their replacement is inevitable. A gaming machine’s performance is measured by two factors: the amount of coins wagered daily (“coin in”) and the amount collected daily by the casino (“win”). If a machine’s performance falters ever so slightly, a slot manager could decide a change is needed in the slot mix, meaning the placement and positioning of machines on the casino floor.
My guess here, Leigh, is that you might also be inquiring about those 20th-century antique machines from manufacturers like Mills and Jennings or some of the later IGT or Bally machines from the '70s or '80s. Their resting places have a variety of possibilities. The first being, as with any slot machine, they are usually sent to a facility that strips them for usable parts and sorts the rest for scrap.
Also, stored in the basement of many casinos is that slot graveyard you speak of, where they live out their lives collecting dust.
Some machines might go to a private collection, but, depending on local law, they may have to be rendered inoperable. Many a man cave has one sitting in the corner to pilfer quarters from the owner’s friends. A collector like yours truly would never part with his 1934 Mills Star “Firebird” QT nickel machine, as it pays for the free Guinness or PBR, their choice, offered when some sucker is yanking its handle.
Then there are retail establishments specific to the selling of older slot machines in gambling towns like Reno and Las Vegas, where selling gambling equipment is legal. Some of these stores have a decent-sized collection on site. If you are a want-to-be buyer of a “dearly departed friend,” it is important to check state and local laws before you pull the trigger (handle), although, generally speaking, antique slot machines are legal in most states if they are over 25 years old. You can also do a Google search on “old slot machines for sale,” or, go to eBay, where a plethora of slots are always for sale.
Even though Nevada may be the gambling capital of the United States, the slot machine was actually born elsewhere, in San Francisco.
The first mechanical slot machine, the Liberty Bell, was invented in 1895 by Charles Fey, a San Francisco mechanic. Fey’s machine housed three spinning reels, each decorated with diamonds, spades, hearts and one cracked Liberty Bell per reel. When the bells lined up, they produced your biggest payoff: 10 nickels. The original Liberty Bell used to be on display at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, but since its closing in 2006, it is now exhibited at the Nevada State Museum.
Back in the '40s and early '50s, those older mechanical slots were chock full of springs and gears that were powered by a player pulling the handle, which started the reels spinning. The problem with these early machines was that they were limited in the size of the jackpots because they could only accept one coin, which restricted the number of coins they could pay out. Once the electromechanical machine appeared, it allowed multiple-coin play, which included electrically powered hoppers that could pay out much larger jackpots.
When the computerized slots were introduced in the '80s, machines with progressive jackpots linked among different machines hundreds of miles apart, offered huge jackpots starting in the millions. Essentially, Leigh, slot machines keep advancing and getting more complicated, necessitating new homes for the older ones. I will write in a future column about some new 3-Reel mechanical slots with the feel of a traditional slot that are now hitting the floor.
Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Slot machines are the cotton candy and the McDonald's of the casino. Everyone knows that they're bad for you, but few can resist their junk-food appeal.” – Andrew Brisman
Best of Mark Pilarski