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Deal Me In


Where'd da go?

Dear Mark: With apologies to General Douglas MacArthur, the question still remains, what happens to old slot machines that have outlived their usefulness? I have noticed that some of my favorite machines mysteriously disappear, one casino at a time, until they are just a fleeting memory of spinning reels and flashing lights. Gone, but not forgotten. Is there a graveyard for our dearly departed friends? Leigh H.


Any time you see a slot machine disappear from the floor, from the casino’s point of view, that machine was misbehaving, or better stated, underperforming.

All machines, Leigh, need to show reasonable results or their replacement is inevitable. A gaming machine’s performance is measured by two factors: the amount of coins wagered daily (“coin in”) and the amount collected daily by the casino (“win”). If a machine’s performance falters ever so slightly, a slot manager could decide a change is needed in the slot mix, meaning the placement and positioning of machines on the casino floor.

My guess here, Leigh, is that you might also be inquiring about those 20th Century antique machines from manufacturers like Mills and Jennings or some of the later IGT or Bally machines from the 70s or 80s. Their resting places have a variety of possibilities. The first being, as with any slot machine, they are usually sent to a facility that strips them for usable parts and sorts the rest for scrap.

Also, stored in the basement of many casinos is that slot graveyard you speak of, where they live out their lives collecting dust. 

Some machines might go to a private collection, but, depending on local law, they may have to be rendered inoperable. Many a Man Cave has one sitting in the corner to pilfer quarters from the owner’s friends. A collector like Yours Truly, would never part with his 1934 Mills Star “Firebird” QT nickel machine, as it pays for the FREE Guinness or PBR, their choice, offered when some sucker is yanking its handle.

Then there are retail establishments specific to the selling of older slot machines in gambling towns like Reno and Las Vegas, where selling gambling equipment is legal. Some of these stores have a decent sized collection on site. If you are a want-to-be buyer of a “dearly departed friend,” it is important to check state and local laws before you pull the trigger (handle), although, generally speaking, antique slot machines are legal in most states if they are over 25 years old. You can also do a Google search on “old slot machines for sale,” or, go to eBay, where a plethora of slots is always for sale.

Even though Nevada may be the gambling capital of the United States, the slot machine was actually born elsewhere, in San Francisco.

The first mechanical slot machine, the Liberty Bell, was invented in 1895 by Charles Fey, a San Francisco mechanic. Fey’s machine housed three spinning reels, each decorated with diamonds, spades, hearts and one cracked Liberty Bell per reel. When the bells lined up, they produced your biggest payoff: 10 nickels. The original Liberty Bell used to be on display at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, but since its closing in 2006, it is now exhibited at the Nevada State Museum.

Back in the 40s and early 50s, those older mechanical slots were chock full of springs and gears that were powered by a player pulling the handle, which started the reels spinning. The problem with these early machines was that they were limited in the size of the jackpots because they could only accept one coin, which restricted the number of coins they could pay out. Once the electromechanical machine appeared, it allowed multiple-coin play, which included electrically powered hoppers that could pay out much larger jackpots.

When the computerized slots were introduced in the 80s, machines with progressive jackpots linked among different machines hundreds of miles apart, offered huge jackpots starting in the millions. Essentially, Leigh, slot machines keep advancing and getting more complicated, necessitating new homes for the older ones. I will write in a future column about some new 3-Reel mechanical slots with the feel of a traditional slot that are now hitting the floor.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Slot machines are the cotton candy and the McDonald's of the casino. Everyone knows that they're bad for you, but few can resist their junk-food appeal.” – Andrew Brisman


No loopholes at this location

Dear Mark: I read you column religiously and always find it very informative. You recently wrote a column regarding taxes and stated, “Even a Super Bowl bet won from Uncle Louie is taxable. Does the same apply to winning at an Indian Reservation casino? I have read that Indian land operates as a sovereign nation, so wouldn’t I be excluded from paying taxes? Ron R. 


Every time I mention casino winnings and taxes, gamblers predictably make inquiries about money won at an Indian casino. You, like others, assume that because Indian reservations have a unique tax arrangement with the federal government and are on sovereign land, this somehow excludes your obligation to pay taxes because your windfall happened on their self-governing property.

I am sorry to say, Ron, but Uncle Sam still expects you to buck up. In the eyes of the IRS, whether a cruise ship in the Bermuda Triangle, at an illegal cellar casino in Shanghai, or at the Odawa (Indian) Casino where I live in N. Michigan, any winnings, from whatever form of gambling worldwide, are taxable and must be reported as "Other Income,” on Form 1040, of the U.S. Individual Tax Return.


Dear Mark: In your response last week to Charlie P., you suggested some software to learn how to play video poker. For those of us without access to a computer, or, in my case at 84 years old and not at all interested in learning how to use one, what do you suggest on how to improve my video poker skills? Margaret C.


Thank you, Margaret, for your handwritten correspondence, and speedy quick it was as the column you mentioned ran just a few days ago. Who says the Post Office isn’t on their game. Oh, and I must mention, such beautiful, suitable for framing, penmanship.  

I do contest your trepidation of learning how to use a computer. The video poker machine you are playing on is really nothing more than a computer, using the same chunk of binary code that crunches 1s and 0s with its sole purpose of extracting your money. Yet, who am I to chastise anyone? At my father’s house, the VCR still blinks 12:00, with a DVD player absent because they are not perfected yet.

I am glad to see that you want to improve your video poker skills. Video Poker is a game that requires skill to win, with each specific game having a set strategy that will give you the maximum return if you play every hand correctly.

You, Margaret, can still create a Las Vegas experience with a handheld video game. Just purchase one of those, dare I say it, small hand-held computer games at Wal-Mart as inexpensively as $5. Along with a basic strategy card, you can sharpen your playing skills and be an expert in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Have the hand-held computer – okay, l will soften the description by calling it an electronic souvenir game for casino play – deal you hands while you consult a strategy card as a quick reference for the correct decisions based on the video poker machine that you are on. Gamblers Book Club (, or for you, Margaret, 1.800.522.1777, has a slew of strategy cards for games like 9/6 Jacks or Better, Full Pay Deuces, Double Double Bonus, 8/5 Bonus, and many more of the most popular machines.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “It's ruthless. Completely ruthless. The cards terrorize you. Seconds stretch. It's like having the worst flu you can imagine for twenty seconds.” – Frederick Barthelme, Bob the Gambler (1997)