El Cortez: The Last Haven for Coin-Based Slot Machines

El Cortez Slots
For decades, slot machines accepted bets and made payouts in coins. Gamblers, meanwhile, happily pumped quarters into these machines in hopes of winning hundreds or thousands of coins back.

But casinos eventually got tired of the inefficiencies of coin-based slot machines. Gaming venues needed to hire attendants just to deal with coin hoppers. Machines would also be down for half an hour or more following big wins. The player needed time to collect the rush of coins, while an attendant had to refill the coin hopper.

During the 1990s, casinos began replacing their coin-operated machines with ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) games. Decades later, coin-based slots are now very rare on gambling floors.

Nevertheless, a few Las Vegas casinos offer these games. El Cortez, the longest-continually running casino in Vegas history, is the biggest haven for coin slot machines.

I’m going to discuss why El Cortez sees the need to keep these relics along with more on the disappearance of coin-based games.

Coin-Operated Slot Machines Offer a Sense of Nostalgia

Those who gamble on coin slot machines aren’t seeking the latest features and biggest jackpots. Instead, they want to relive Vegas trips of years’ past.

Phyllis Henry is one of these gamblers. The 84-year-old recently spoke to Vegas Inc. about why she returns to El Cortez to play coin-operated slots.

“I play the (coin-based slots) because it’s what I’ve always done all the years I’ve played,” she said. “I guess I like to get my fingers dirty.”

Henry is likely to keep paying these games in the future. After all, she won $200 worth of quarters during the interview.

A true throwback to gambling’s past, Henry recorded her win in a notebook that she uses to chart slots wins and losses. She also stored her newfound pile of quarters in an old cottage cheese container.

Henry isn’t the only gambler who appreciates the simple games and experience at El Cortez. Helen Iwata is another player who frequents the downtown casino’s coin slots.

The 88-year-old has been coming to El Cortez since 1965. She even knew the late owner, Jackie Gaughan, who passed away in 2014.

The Largest Selection of Coin Slot Machines

The vast majority of casinos want nothing to do with coin-operated slots. They’ve forsaken these machines long ago in favor of TITO games, which are more similar to an online slots experience but you’re still at the casino. The latter merely requires paper to print receipts. TITO slot machines don’t feature coin hoppers or go down for 30 minutes every time somebody wins 1,000 coins.

El Cortez is rare in their acceptance of the older style of slots. In fact, they’ve embraced such games in an effort to attract their core audience.

This gambling establishment features 175 coin slots, which is more than any other casino in Vegas or elsewhere. According to general manager Adam Wiesberg, they don’t plan on diminishing this selection anytime soon either.

“We have all the latest and greatest (slots) on our slot floor, but we intend on keeping a selection of coin machines,” said Wiesberg.

“We have a process where we take away some games every month that don’t get as much play, But we have players who love these machines.”

He added that most coin-operated slots were built to last. The main difficulty, though, involves finding parts when one of these games do break down. Some parts for coin-based slot machines are no longer being made. When they do get the parts, El Cortez also needs technicians who can handle the work.

Catering to Gambling’s Old Guard

The majority of the El Cortez staff has worked at the casino for over a decade. During this time, they’ve developed solid relationships with the regulars.

Rick Ronca, who manages El Cortez’s slots floor, noted that these relationships are important to the casino’s success.

“When you go to a place where it’s just ticket-in and ticket-out, you don’t really need any (maintenance) staff for that,” said Ronca. “Here, our staff is critical to us.”

“They know each regular customer by name. They greet them and talk to them. I don’t have an employee who’s been here less than eight years. The average is probably about 30 years.”

Wiesberg also spoke to the relationships that El Cortez staff members have with their long-time customers.

“Our ownership still appreciates that connection with the customer, which many places have gotten away from. They’ve gotten away from it because there’s no money in it. But for us, it’s a legacy that we’re trying to maintain. Our customers are loyal.”

A Tourist Destination

El Cortez enjoys more advantages from their coin-operated machines than just attracting nostalgic gamblers. They’ve also became a tourist destination thanks to their vintage games.

El Cortez Las Vegas

Some gamblers make a special trip downtown just to insert quarters into these games and pull the handles.

Because there aren’t many coin-operated slot machines left in Las Vegas, tourists from all over the globe stop by to play these old-school slots.

It’s no surprise that it’s become a novelty in the local Las Vegas gambling realm. While there are folks who are regulars at these slots, there are others who stop by just to experience its nostalgia.

Challenges to Offering Coin-Based Slots

Wiesberg said that newer gambling establishments make more profits from TITO games. After all, casinos don’t need as much manpower to keep modern slot machines running.

El Cortez, however, does “require more labor” to maintain their coin-based games. They also need employees to handle various tasks dealing with the coins themselves.

Coin Slot Machine

Staff members count all of the coins on a nightly basis. They’ll go through $30,000 worth of quarters and $3,000 worth of nickels on average.

They must also separate the coin denominations via bags. Once the bags are full, they’re stacked on top of each other until a driver can take them to the bank.

Those handling the coins must wear pocketless jumpsuits. A security guard with a metal detector checks them before they leave the room.

Sometimes, the games also need special fixes that aren’t immediately available. For instance, the casino wanted to replace the outdated bill acceptors on the coin-based machines.

They had to contact a metal fabrication firm and order specially made brackets just so the games could accept both bills and quarters.


Vegas and other gambling destinations have long since put their coin slot machines out to pasture. These games are typically only available through eBay sellers (for personal use) nowadays.

However, certain casinos still see value in coin-operated slots. El Cortez is the biggest aficionado of these classic games.

They have a special place on their gaming floor for 175 coin-based slot machines. At a time when other casinos view these games as antiques, El Cortez uses them as an important marketing tool.

This casino draws a large number of gamblers who play classic slots for nostalgic purposes. They even attract tourists who want to try vintage slot machines.

El Cortez won’t be getting rid of their coin slots anytime soon. While they offer newer games like any Vegas casino, they also plan to keep their coin-based slot machines for the foreseeable future.