As a field service tech with Bally Technologies, Paul Helt can usually be found in one of two places: on the floor of a major casino on the Vegas Strip, servicing or repairing thousands of slot machines — or behind the wheel of his Chevy van (yes, it’s white), en route to the next casino to do the same thing. Here’s a detailed look at one of the unsung heroes of field service (not to mention the gambling industry), and what it takes to get the job done.

The Service Tech

A Michigan native, Helt became intrigued by the promise of the Vegas Strip during the 1980s recession. For the last 15 years, he’s been repairing slots, from the old-time lever and reel machines to today’s generation of electronic touch-screen games. But when he isn’t repairing slot machines, the last thing Helt wants to do is gamble. “It’s boring,” he said with a laugh. “Us guys are around these machines all day long. The last thing we want to do at the end of the day is be around them more.”

Instead, he takes his three grandsons on local adventures in his free time. From Red Rock to Lake Mead, the lure of Las Vegas extends far beyond the sparkle of the Strip. “It’s just a fun city,” Helt said. “People are different out here. There’s always something exciting going on.”

The Job

Not only does the job entail installing new slots in casinos around the world, it requires constant maintenance of existing machines. Helt covers anywhere from 200 to 500 miles on an average day, patrolling the Strip and far-flung areas of the desert such as Rockland and Mesquite, making about a dozen stops and servicing as many machines. Casino managers call Bally’s central dispatch center when a machine goes down and dispatch locates the nearest tech in the field. When Helt goes on a service call, the first thing he does is locate the house tech manager who ushers him to the broken machine.

Helt’s duties include:

  • Fixing broken reels on old-fashioned mechanical slots
  • Repairing monitors on modern machines if they go dark
  • Making courtesy stops to check in on existing customers
  • Beating the clock: Helt gets each machine back in working order within 30 minutes of arrival

Most of Helt’s time is spent fixing older machines. Newer games possess technology similar to an iPod Touch, with all electronic components that are less likely to break than the reel slots.

The Training

Helt has a background in electronics and mechanics. Before focusing on slot machines, he worked as a cabinetmaker and mechanical draftsman. Monthly training sessions on Bally’s latest technology keep techs up to date. “Everything’s changing so fast,” Helt said. “Every month, I need to brush up on something new.”

The Tools

  • A few screwdrivers of varying size
  • “The suitcase,” a pack of equipment that acts as the brains of any slot machine
  • A rugged handheld Motorola computer that relays dispatch information, logs worker activity and keeps track of inventory

The Van

  • 2011 Chevrolet Express

ABOUT Sara Suddes

San Francisco-based contributor Sara Suddes writes frequently about small business, the economy and technology.