04/17/2003 11:00PM

Coin-operated slot machines going, going, and soon gone

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There is a store in Las Vegas that reconditions and sells old slot machines. People buy them for nostalgic reasons, not to open a casino in their basements.

The slot machines of 50 or even 25 years ago look like Model-T Fords compared to what is going on today. So it is no surprise to see two innovations taking slots to the next level.

The conversion from coin to ticket-in, ticket-out cashless slots is moving at a rapid pace. And not far behind, pending approval by the Nevada Gaming Commission, will be the use of debit cards in slot machines.

Park Place Entertainment has taken a leadership role in implementing the change to cashless slots. Two of its casinos, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, have been converted to nearly all ticket-in, ticket-out slots for its 3,211 machines. Just 111 slots remain unchanged pending regulatory approval.

By the end of 2003, other Park Place casinos - Caesars Palace with nearly 1,900 slots and the Flamingo with more than 1,700 slots - will also have the new ticket-in, ticket-out system.

Other major casino companies are converting their slots at a quick pace, including MGM Mirage, Mandalay Resort Group, Harrah's, Station Casinos, and Coast Resorts properties.

In ticket-in, ticket-out technology, a slot player, upon completion of play, is paid with a voucher, which has a bar code on it. The player can then turn in the voucher for cash or use the voucher for future slot play.

Ticket-in, ticket-out technology makes for faster slot play, and it is easier and simpler for players. No longer do players have to wait for an attendant to refill a hopper. There will be cost savings due to fewer change personnel on the casino floor, but management insists implementing ticket-in, ticket-out won't reduce work staff. They say they want to re-deploy personnel into more customer service-related roles.

Park Place said that by the end of 2003 it would have converted 60 percent of its slots nationwide, 22,000 total, to ticket-in, ticket-out technology.

Brian Casey, marketing manager for the slot machine designer Internet Game Technology, said he predicts that within two years all slot machines in Nevada will be coinless and within five years they will all be cashless.

Debit cards could explode the growth of the slot industry. Proposed guidelines will allow a maximum withdrawal of $1,000 per card per day. It would possibly render ATM machines obsolete, at least for the slot players.

In the new regulation, table game players also may cash travelers checks directly at the table instead of going to a cashier.

This is all good news within the slot machine industry. The replacement rate for machines is expected to far outpace the typical 15 percent per year. And with more states coming on board with casino gaming every year, the demand will continue to outgrow the supply.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up show.