NBC's primetime series "Las Vegas" is loaded with the glitz, glitter and, of course, gambling of Sin City.
But this is show biz, and the bright lights are actually set up on a sound stage at NBC Burbank, not Las Vegas. That unmistakable cacophony of jangling one-armed bandits comes to viewers courtesy of El Segundo's L.A. Slot Machine Co. Inc.
The slots' presence on the show, and in a number of other films and TV series, represents a ringing payout for brothers Larry and Scott Zeidman. They've provided the machines for feature films including "Ocean's Eleven," "Domino," "Walking Tall" and "Rush Hour 2," as well as the TV shows "The O.C.," "CSI" and "Charmed."
The company did about $9 million in gross sales last year, the bulk of which came from international business. It sold refurbished machines to casinos in such places as Peru, Ukraine and Costa Rica. Each slot machine typically sells for $1,500 to $5,500, depending on the year and type.
Domestically, the entertainment business is the company's biggest piece of the action, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
"We do a lot of studio work, and when I see a movie or production and it's not our machines in there, I get upset," Scott Zeidman said.
Hustling to keep up with studios' demands isn't always easy, but it's part of the game, he said.
"It's incredibly easy to deal with studios once you understand they can be difficult to deal with," Scott Zeidman said. "They want stuff yesterday, and they want it their way. It's really its own animal."
The studios are willing to spend big money to get the shots right, Larry Zeidman said. The company made between $20,000 and $30,000 providing slots for a casino scene in an episode of Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show" that was supposed to be set in a Vegas casino. The going rental rate is about $250 a week for a slot machine.
L.A. Slots has more than 13,000 slot machines at the ready in its 75,000-square-foot warehouse and 25,000 square feet of outdoor storage space.
Larry Zeidman started the business in 1980, when he was a classic middleman buying discount cases of soda and selling them to liquor stores and bowling alleys.
"My brother has always been good with his hands, and was into fixing muscle cars," Scott Zeidman said of the company's beginnings. "He bought this antique slot machine, fixed it up and sold it for a profit, then did it with another then another."
At first, Larry Zeidman sold the machines out of his parents' garage in Culver City. When he needed more space, he took over a small corner of his mother's fabric warehouse. After a few years, slot machines filled the entire facility.
The firm was first approached for studio work in the early 1990s. Word of mouth from prop houses that used L.A. Slots to supply movie sets helped the business grow steadily.
The sale and rental of slot machines is heavily regulated, so it doesn't hurt that Scott Zeidman is a lawyer. He negotiates the contracts and helps the firm navigate California's complex regulations covering slot machines. The sale of any machine less than 25 years old requires approval from police and the state Attorney General's Office.
But shutting down a section of a working casino requires studios to ante up a stack of cash. Scott Zeidman estimated the average casino slot machine brings in about $300 an hour, so shutting down even a small area in a working casino is an expensive proposition. Also, casinos generally allow filming at specified times of day typically the wee hours of the morning.
"It's a long day when you start shooting at two or three in the morning," said Eric Bates, the "Las Vegas" prop master. "Then there's travel and other costs to consider." Over the past two seasons, NBC has spent more than $200,000 using L.A. Slots' machines.
"It's very difficult to make a set really look like Vegas," Bates said. It's all in the details."
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