Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

It's a vexing, all-too-common occurrence for gamblers in Las Vegas casinos: They finish playing a slot machine or video poker machine, press a "Cash Out" button and receive a small paper voucher for their winnings. They take the voucher to one of the many conveniently located ATM-like redemption machines on the casino floor that usually rounds down to the nearest dollar and dispenses cash but no coins. They then get another voucher worth up to 99 cents.

And what do they do with that irksome piece of paper? They typically leave it at the machine, toss it in the trash or on the floor (or into a fountain like a coin for good luck), lose it or put it into their pocket or purse and forget about it. If the voucher is not redeemed in six months, it expires.

The pennies quickly add up.

Gamblers in Nevada casinos let $22 million in vouchers (which also includes sports betting and less common table-game vouchers) go unclaimed during the last fiscal year, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported. According to a Nevada law passed in 2011, 75% of unclaimed winnings go to the state, and the rest goes to the venue at which the money wasn't claimed.

Decades ago, players could hear every satisfying drop of a coin into a machine's tray and take the coins to the cashier's cage for dollar bills. New ticket-in, ticket-out technology inevitably led to unclaimed money, but casinos making it difficult for guests to get their proper change is a relatively new phenomenon and perhaps initially a surprise for some.

"It aggravates people; I think they're like, 'Jeez, really?' But they go, 'You know, don't sweat the small stuff, right?' They go, 'I don't want to be bothered.' And they just end up saying, 'Well, I don't care,'" said Anthony Curtis, a longtime Las Vegas gaming expert and president of LasVegasAdvisor.com.

Revenue from expired vouchers has increased every year since 2012, when it was about $4.2 million, a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by casino management, Curtis said.

"They're just forcing you to go to another step to get your spare change," Curtis said. "Whatever the reason is, it could have been for a real thing, a coin shortage, but that certainly doesn't exist now from everything I've heard. It could have been something more altruistic; some of [them] offer you the opportunity to donate it [at the redemption machine]. It's just another thing that the casinos are doing to squeeze a little bit more out. That's my opinion, and I think it's pretty lousy."

The redemption machines provide a convenience because gamblers don't have to walk as far to a more centralized cashier's cage to collect the bulk of their winnings. During the pandemic's height, casinos implemented more ways to have less frequent face-to-face interactions. And most everyone can agree fewer dirty coins changing hands is a good thing for a health perspective.

But casino companies also benefit financially because fewer gamblers line up at cashier cages, requiring fewer paid employees disbursing every last cent. Like parking and resort fees, the practice of not having machines that dispense coins may tend to alienate some customers, Curtis said.

"Nobody's gonna go home and go, 'Oh, my God, I got destroyed because they kept 75 cents. But it's an aggravating thing. And it just leaves a bad taste in people's mouth," Curtis said.

The annoyance, especially when players aren't adequately informed at the redemption machine, is boiling over for some. A Louisiana woman recently named MGM Resorts International in a lawsuit filed in Mississippi's Southern District federal court, claiming MGM (owners of Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi) is stealing millions of dollars annually from unsuspecting patrons through voucher redemption kiosks.

MGM has not commented on the litigation.

Among the exceptions to the trend is Boyd Gaming casinos (Aliante, the Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam's Town, the Cannery, California, the Fremont and Main Street Station), which do offer full coin payment of gaming vouchers at redemption machines.

Meanwhile, at other casinos, players of course can still take the voucher they get from the slot or poker machine or the voucher they get at the redemption machine to the cashier to receive their full due amount. They can also play off the voucher at a low-denomination (penny, nickel, dime) slot machine, maybe even reaching a whole dollar credit and then cash out.

But perhaps the best work-around: "Pay it forward" and just give the voucher to a random player at a machine.

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