One of the world’s last remaining casinos still operating coin slots is facing a serious coin shortage during the pandemic. El Cortez Hotel & Casino in Downtown Las Vegas is having trouble supplying coins for its slots.
Longest-Running Casino in Vegas
El Cortez was founded in 1941 in the Fremont East district of Downtown Las Vegas, and has been in continuous operation since opening. This is a rarity in Las Vegas, as most of the original casinos have been bought, imploded, and rebuilt into mega-resorts.
But El Cortez still swings the Fab Forties vibe, right down to the coin-operated slot machines. In a world where everything is digital, the sound of coins jingling and jangling seems quaint and adds a touch of nostalgia.
However, now El Cortez faces serious problems maintaining its coin supply. The casino had built up a stash of $120,000 in coin to meet the demand of its metal-munching machines. But when the pandemic forced casinos into lockdown, the management deposited all but $30,000 worth of coins in the bank to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But when casinos reopened, El Cortez ordered $30,000 in coin from the bank and received only $500, they knew there was going to be a problem. Two-thirds of the casino’s revenue comes from slots, and without coins to operate them, this could spell disaster.
The general manager of El Cortez, Adam Wiesberg, said, “When we went to reopen, we got some additional coin back with our cash, but we didn’t think there would be a shortage.”
El Cortez operates 730 slots machines, 113 of which are coin operated. Upon reopening, slots were spaced apart and separated by special acrylic dividers, and the customers began returning. But the casino’s coin cache soon began to run out and dipped below $20,000.
To lessen the coin hemorrhage, casino staff has had to cut back on their coin-changing services. Prior to the pandemic, El Cortez also supplied local businesses with coins for their cash registers, but now they’ve had to stop this practice.
Staff now empty the coin change machines daily instead of weekly, and management has eliminated the 5% coin cashing fee at their CoinMax counters. They have also appealed to customers to bring their own coins from home to help with the coin shortage.
According to the spokesperson for the U.S. Mint, Michael White, the problem is not with the coin supply, but with circulation. “Third-party coin processors and retail activity account for the majority of coins put into circulation each year,” he said.
As the public reduced handling cash and coins to curb the spread of coronavirus, the coin flow trickled to a near standstill. Also, many coin-dependent businesses like restaurants and laundromats closed, and the coins stopped flowing.
The U.S. Mint has increased coin production from 1 billion coins per months to 1.65 billion in order to help alleviate the coin shortage.
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