The casino industry is one of the most closely monitored and regulated industries in the U.S. Every state that allows a form of casino gaming also has a separate law enforcement division devoted entirely to ensuring those games are run honestly and legally. Casinos aren’t allowed to keep secrets from the government and law enforcement, yet many seem to insist on keeping as much from the general public as possible.
This is where casinos, in my opinion, have somewhat failed themselves in recent times. While I agree a measure of mystery lends to the superstitions that make gaming so much fun for so many people, it is certainly not necessary to keep everything a secret. In fact, too many secrets can lead to a feeling of distrust, and casinos can ill afford to be labeled as untrustworthy in an economy like this.
Take those lights on top of the slot machines for instance. Virtually every machine has them – a cylindrical light placed dead center on top of the machine, with two colors stacked one on top of the other. Sometimes called tower lights or candles, they are white on the top and colored on the bottom. The bottom color actually indicates the default minimum denomination of the machine, usually red for dime and below denominations or yellow for quarters, and the top light is always white.
Nine times out of 10, these lights are off. They just sit there for no apparent reason. If a player hits the "service" button, the top (white) light will turn on and remain on, signaling to the next slot host to walk by that the player needs attention. Most of us have figured this part out, but what about when you see either one or both of the lights blinking?
One of my readers recently assumed the blinking lights meant the machines were being placed out of order. He then assumed the reason for putting them out of order was to tighten them, and pointed out to me that my recent article on how difficult, time consuming and rare it is for a casino to tighten a machine must be a bunch of hogwash. After all, he sees these lights blinking all the time!
Although incorrect, I can see why the reader jumped to the conclusions he did. It certainly sounds reasonable, especially if you just got done losing a wad of money. Casinos certainly don’t tell us why they would put machines out of order. And have you ever seen a sticker on a machine explaining why that light on top sometimes blinks? I sure haven’t.
A blinking bottom light simply indicates a machine door has been opened, or it’s been opened and closed and nobody has played the game since. As soon as somebody plays the machine, the blinking will stop. This is the most common signal behind the call for service since machine doors must be opened for a myriad number of reasons, not just tightening. Bill jams, routine maintenance, button problems, bulb replacements – all require opening a door, which sets the bottom candle light blinking.
The most common reason for many bottom lights to all be blinking at the same time is the drop. Usually done in the wee hours of the morning once or twice a week, the drop crew comes through the casino, opens every machine, and takes the money out. The bottom candle light on each machine emptied starts blinking, and they don’t stop until they’re played again.
Both the top and bottom lights blinking slowly at the same time is the signal we all want to see on our machine. That means a player is awaiting a hand-pay, which usually indicates a big jackpot over the taxable $1,200 mark just hit. Nice!
If only the top white light is flashing and the bottom light is off, this indicates a machine tilt, which is pretty rare nowadays. Most other combinations of faster flashing lights signify various administrative states and aren’t often seen unless they’re on a machine undergoing installation or removal.
But even when machines are being placed out of service and both lights are blinking rapidly, there are plenty of reasons for a casino to do so besides tightening paytables. Casinos are constantly moving machines around, replacing old themes with new ones, and bringing the latest and greatest machines available out to replace underperforming games. It’s how they keep their floors fresh, new and inviting so players will keep coming back.
So next time you see a blinking light or a roped-off area of machines, please don’t assume the worst. There are many reasons for a light to blink or a casino to put a machine out of service, and most of those reasons actually benefit the players. The casinos just don’t do a good job of explaining this because they’ve never had to before. Maybe they should start, but until they do at least you’ve got me to give you the scoop!
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(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon & Casino in Henderson, Nevada.)