Don’t Keep the Change: National Coin Shortage Hits Colorado Casinos

Colorado casinos need your coins. No, really.

Normally, this is where you’d hear about different machines being rolled out or apps being launched. But in this case, casinos truly have a need for your loose change amidst an ongoing national shortage. It sounds bizarre, but it’s a true story.

There are several reasons coins have been in short supply. COVID-19 shutdowns over the last four months have limited in where people could travel, so most transactions have been taking place online. Instead of physically going to a casino, many gamblers in states allowing online gambling would fire up an app, where no physical cash changes hands.

The same is true of sports bettors. During the shutdown, instead of visiting a local casino sportsbook, most gamblers just pulled up an online sports betting app on their phones to place their wagers, no hard currency involved.

The same goes for restaurants, shops and most other places with the exception of grocery stores. Fewer in-person visits means less change went into circulation, as officials from the U.S. Mint explained this week to Colorado Sharp

Precautions taken to slow the spread of the virus resulted in reduced retail sales activity and significantly decreased deposits from coin processors,” Mint officials said in a statement.

Officials explained that casinos, restaurants and retail account for the majority of coins in circulation each year. They said in 2019, only 17 percent of coins were produced by the U.S. Mint. The other 83 percent were recycled several times over. While there’s no risk for coins to simply disappear, U.S. Mint officials said the slowdown has caused a few issues. 

“The slowed pace of circulation meant that sufficient quantities of coins are sometimes not readily available where needed,” Mint officials said. 

A National Casino Coin Shortage

A lack of coins affects Colorado casinos in different ways. In Central City, there’s been little impact. Colorado Sharp reached out to a number of casinos in town and most said they had systems that used tickets. A couple use tokens or other special coins, specific to the building, so they also dodge the issue. That’s not true for every casino, however. Just down the road in Black Hawk, multiple operations find the lack of coins a bit challenging. 

“It’s making it more difficult to make change for sure,” said Jordan Sherman, a spokesman for Monarch Casino. “They’re asking people who have any loose change to bring it up to the casino cage to exchange for cash, fee-free. For whatever reason, nickels are in particularly high demand.” 

In addition to regular guests, Monarch officials hope that by making it fee-free, Gilpin County residents with big coin jars at home will be inclined to come in and make the swap. The practice used to be fairly common not just in Colorado, but in Las Vegas casinos, as people would come in, exchange the coins for cash and then stay to spend the money. But as casinos started charging fees, the coins stopped coming in as often. It’s worth mentioning that when people stopped delivering their coins, some also stopped coming in at all. As we’ve mentioned before, the average age for gamers at multiple casinos is 50 and over. Casino industry experts point to things like this as a reason why. 

Century Struggles to Get Coins

Monarch isn’t the only Colorado casino dealing with the national shortage. At the Century Casino in Cripple Creek, the situation’s reached a point where even the bank can’t help. 

Yes everyone is short on nickels for some reason,” said Eric Rose, vice president of operations for Century Casino. “We have customers and employees bringing change in and have been able to manage so far.” 

Right now, you could say they’re on the clock. Century is having problems getting coins from the bank. While the casino still has enough change for customers, that won’t be the case if the shortage continues. To help solve the problem, Rose said they recently put out a call on their website as well, asking people to bring in any coins they may have. If that doesn’t help, they’ll consider other options, he said. As for the nickel issue, it also potentially ties in. Nickel and penny slots are named as such because they’re geared toward low-stakes gamblers. These are gamers that only have a little bit of money. They don’t have enough to otherwise get involved with the games. Right now, Colorado casinos are seeing a bit of a younger crowd, but also one that needs to place small bets. Hence why they’re showing interest in the nickels.  

Government Promises a Solution is Coming

Despite the issues, this doesn’t appear to be something for people to worry about. In fact, it’s likely this will be solved before your next trip to a casino in Black Hawk or Cripple Creek. First off, the Federal Reserve announced this week it will start shipping all available coins to banks, based on their historical coin orders. So the banks in Colorado that usually order the most coins will get the first distribution and so on, until as many as possible have enough to meet demand for weeks, instead of days. 

Beyond that, as we mentioned earlier in the article, the U.S. Mint shut down when the rest of the country did. Looking to restart coin production, the Mint started reopening in June. As we head into August, the operation is now back to full capacity and Mint officials said in a statement they’re working to “maximize coin production capacity,” to solve the national shortage.  

About the Author

Brian Carlton

Brian Carlton is an award-winning journalist who has covered casinos, the gaming and finance industries for more than a decade. His work has been published by the BBC and a variety of newspapers across the U.S.