National Coin Shortage a New Problem for Old Vegas Casino, Other Gaming Businesses Too

Posted on: September 6, 2020, 11:04h. 

Last updated on: September 7, 2020, 10:51h.

At nearly 80 years old, the El Cortez Hotel and Casino markets itself on the history of Las Vegas and the casino itself, the only one existing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Coin shortage casinos
A woman puts in a quarter to play a coin-operated slot machine at the El Cortez Hotel and Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. (Image: El Cortez)

While the downtown landmark has gone through its share of upgrades and expansions, General Manager Adam Wiesberg says that the allure of old Vegas still draws the guests, young and old, local and tourist. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of our history and authenticity is that we maintain things as much as they were in the 1950s and 60s… and a big part of our history is these coin slot machines,” Wiesberg told

Once boasting more than 2,000 coin slots, that number worked its way down over the years to 113 of the classic games when the El Cortez reopened on June 4. Like other casinos, the El Cortez had several issues to handle in reopening, such as spacing machines on the floor for social distancing, installing acrylic dividers where distancing was an issue, and developing cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

Wiesberg and his staff didn’t know they would need to address another issue.

Before the pandemic, the El Cortez kept $120,000 in coins in reserve for those slots. But when Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos to close on March 17, management decided to send $90,000 of that to the bank. As it came time to reopen, the casino requested $30,000 in coins to replenish their slots. When the Brinks truck came, it only delivered $500 in quarters.

“That was the first indication we had that there was a problem, and when they explained that it wasn’t a mix-up or a mistake – that was all that they could deliver – we knew there was going to be an issue,” Wiesberg said.

Coin Shortage Affecting Others, Too

COVID-19 has presented a number of issues for casinos and other businesses. One few expected, though, was a coin shortage.

Why The Shortage?
According to the Federal Reserve, the COVID-19 crisis “significantly disrupted” the production and distribution of coins across the country. It’s also been exacerbated by the increased use of credit and debit cards, as well as an influx of digital payment transactions.

It was not until mid-June that the US Mint was able to resume producing coins at maximum capacity. In addition, business and bank closures kept existing coins out of circulation. Since resuming full production capabilities, the US Mint expects to generate more than 1.6 billion new coins each month.

“As the economy recovers and businesses reopen, more coins will flow back into retail and banking channels, and eventually into the Federal Reserve, which should allow for the rebuilding of coin inventories,” the Fed says on its website.

Most modern slots that are coin-play, i.e. each turn or line costs a penny or nickel or quarter or 50 cents to play, require bettors to insert cash or a voucher to operate. And bettors then receive a voucher to redeem at the cashier’s desk or machine.

Even that’s an issue for some gaming venues. On July 23, the Illinois Gaming Board issued an emergency rule allowing establishments with video gaming terminals to redeem tickets at less than face value and receive the remainder as a voucher.

“Lacking sufficient coinage, video gaming redemption devices are becoming unable to redeem patron tickets either fully or partially,” the order reads. “This situation threatens to paralyze the operation of video gaming throughout the State of Illinois” and threatens to affect state revenues from gaming.

Making Changes to Make Change

Casinos in Vegas and elsewhere have also called on their customers to help them with the coin shortage.

At Jumer’s Casino and Hotel in Rock Island, Ill., the Quad Cities area venue is offering customers free play bonuses for their coins. Customers get $5 in free play if they bring in between $25 and $50 worth of coins. Those who have $200 or more in pocket change get a $20 bonus.

Wiesberg said the El Cortez lifted the 5 percent fee it would charge when customers would bring in outside coins to turn into cash at its four CoinMax stations. Between waiving the fee and the daily recycling of those stations, the casino has only needed to go through about $10,000 of its coin reserve.

There’s even a plan in case the reserves dwindle down to $10,000 or less.

“We would do a call to action through, say, social media, and knowing our loyal community, we would have people lined up at our CoinMax machines to cash in their piggy banks,” Wiesberg told

The El Cortez isn’t at that point, he reiterated, adding that recent announcements from the Fed give him confidence that won’t be necessary.