Cashless slot machines offer casinos unexpected bonanza - Friday 12th of August 2005

Gamblers that play ticket-in, ticket-out slot machines give thousands of dollars a month back to the casinos in which they play by not cashing in their vouchers.

One of the unexpected bonanzas casinos have realized by installing cashless machines that print bar-coded claim tickets instead of distributing coins when players cash out is that some players dont bother cashing tickets with small amounts.

"I think it was one of the unintended consequences of ticket-in, ticket-out," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter. "I know I have a ticket for $7.50 in one of my desk drawers. It just wasnt worth my time to cash it in at the time."

Anyone who has spent much time in a casino that offers the so-called TITO technology has seen the vouchers with minimal amounts are left behind by gamblers who dont feel its worth the effort to cash in a ticket for a penny or two.

But those tiny amounts add up. And, ultimately, the casino gets to keep the revenue that results when casinos dont pay those amounts.

The state Gaming Control Board requires that properties monitor unclaimed tickets on a month-to-month basis. Greg Gale, chief auditor of the Control Board, said casinos eventually write off the unclaimed tickets and, at that point, it becomes casino revenue.

Gale said the board doesnt track the amounts of unclaimed tickets, but notes the revenue whenever a write-off occurs to that the state can collect its 6.75 percent tax on gross revenue from that amount.

The fact that players leave winnings behind isnt a new phenomenon. For years, casinos have realized additional revenue from unclaimed winning tickets written in their sports books, most often from gamblers who lost their tickets or from out-of-state players who dont know how to claim their winnings by mail.

Curtis also noted that some people keep casino chips as souvenirs.

"Its kind of a double-whammy when they keep chips," Curtis said. "Not only do they not have to pay the player, but the chips themselves are not worth their value. It costs just pennies to make those chips."

So how much do gamblers leave behind?

Lori Nelson, a spokeswoman for Station Casinos Inc., the largest locals chain, said each property in the chain sees just under $1,000 a month left behind by players on average.

Cashout vouchers generated by machines at Station properties have an expiration date 60 days from the date of their printing.

State regulations require that players be given at least 60 days to claim their jackpots, but some casinos dont print an expiration date on their tickets.

Some even have mail-in instructions similar to those on sports book tickets so that out-of-state players can still cash in if a ticket lands in a wallet.

On the Strip, Juan Hernandez, slot operations manager at the Stardust, concurred that the $1,000-a-month figure is probably about right, although its lower at his property because the Stardust has a lower percentage of TITO machines.

"It really isnt that much on a per-month basis," Hernandez said. "Its not a material amount by any stretch."

Curtis doesnt think unclaimed TITO vouchers should be an issue to regulators since the state is getting its share of tax revenue and its clear that players who leave tickets behind do it by choice.

"Its obvious that were dealing with people who dont need any extra protections," Curtis said. "If they dont want to pick them up, its their decision."

Gale said the problem may eventually go away when account wagering takes hold and new technology is approved by regulators.

"When wagering accounts are approved, it may get to the point that there arent any tickets used anymore," Gale said. "It would all be tracked by computer."

"Tickets are just a means to an end," Hernandez added. "Before we had tickets, people would leave credits on the machine. Its just something that happens thats a part of our business."

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