Why Are Slot Machines Turned Off for So Long?

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Wheel of Fortune machines being installed for a tournament

Why do machines sit offline for so long? Is it because they’re making changes to the payouts? Here’s an example of a question we received on the topic:

I was just reading the article about players cards and it was talking about the machines needing to be idle for sometime in order to change the payback or payout I guess. Anyway, at my casino in Madison WI there are always a lot of slots down for some time. Is that what they are doing, Changing the way it pays?

Lorraine D.

Normally changing a payout on a machine isn’t so laborious that a machine has to be offline for a significant period of time. The machine is generally opened up, the changes made and logged, rebooted and then it’s back in operation. This might be a 30 minute process, but certainly wouldn’t be down for days or weeks.

What we’ve noticed over the years of playing at various casinos is that some casinos are simply quicker on the upkeep than others. For various reasons, some casinos let machine sit idle for lengthy periods of time, especially older machines. There’s likely a few reasons for this.

For one, older machines can be harder to get back up and running in general, because given their age something is more likely to be wrong vs. a simpler issue like being out of paper. Doors over time get looser and it’s easier for a machine to think a door is open when it’s not, for instance. Like any electronics, various parts simply wear down.

Part two to that is that those parts can get expensive too, especially on those older machines. At a certain point a casino will judge whether it’s worth fixing, or ultimately replacing, a machine.

The recent consensus is to replace machines in bulk – look around many casinos, from big Vegas ones to smaller locals, and you’ll see machines seem to be rotating faster than they used to be, with older machines taking the bulk of the hits when it happens. 

When casinos reopened after the pandemic, half their machines were turned off, but their revenues didn’t drop by half, and it was a wake-up call about how to set up a casino floor. There tend to be less machines, with a bigger emphasis on the new and shiny than before.

But that doesn’t mean casinos don’t leave old broken machines on the floor – we still see it, baffling as it is. It probably means they’re either hoping to eventually fix it, or replace it, and just haven’t gotten there yet. Or, they’re using it to space out the working machines (we often see them in the middle of rows vs. the end).

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