Still, the question remains: Is the small piece of gold that emerges from this rather unique vending machine actually worth the investment, or is it just another way to lose money in Vegas?
The Gold to Go machine, billed as a "gold ATM," began dispensing seven different gold products Wednesday at the Golden Nugget Hotel-Casino, the second of its kind unveiled in the U.S. and the 20th worldwide. Customers insert their cash or a debit card and choose from gold bars or coins that weigh up to 1 ounce at whatever the market price is for the precious metal at that moment, plus at least a 5 percent commission.
The Gold to Go machine in Vegas as well as the one that debuted in mid-December in a mall in Boca Raton, Fla., vend pieces that range from 1 gram to 1 ounce, which translated at the close of the market on Wednesday to $44 and $1,375, respectively. So buyers who patronize it spend serious money, and Gold to Go Machines in Europe and Abu Dhabi actually vend up to about 9 ounces. A 9-ounce bullion would cost more than $12,000.
"I'd come home from traveling and I'd bring my wife chocolate or perfume and it got boring, always the same, and my wife said, 'Next time, when you come home from a trip, bring home a piece of 24k gold,'" said Gold to Go CEO Thomas Geissler of Germany, explaining the inspiration.
Geissler acknowledged that gold at these small quantities is intended more as a souvenir or gift than as an investment. But it's also clear, critics say, that Geissler aims to cash in on the attention surrounding the bull market for gold that has sent prices above $1,400 an ounce in recent weeks. The high price of gold, brought on by global insecurities about the value of government-issued currencies, was referenced during the Wednesday news conference in Vegas by both Geissler and Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta.
"It's a giant novelty," Marshall said. "Even the sales in Dubai (where the first Gold to Go Machine was deployed) are very small. You might get somebody to put a few hundred bucks in, but no serious investor is going to walk up to a machine to buy their gold."
Geissler declined to say how much gold the Boca Raton machine had sold, but he said they've sold between 50 and 100 pieces a day since the launch there.
In addition to the 5 percent premium on most items in the machine, Geissler said there's a 15 percent premium on a 10-gram bullion with the logo of the Golden Nugget casino. He told AOL News that it is a "very, very collectible piece," but Marshall said the logo could actually lower the value to gold dealers.
Marshall said that gold bullion dealers prefer to see hallmarks they recognize as reputable such as Johnson Matthey, and a dealer is likely to discount the gold piece because of the unfamiliar imprimatur.
Geissler's machine is across the hall from the Golden Nugget's other big attraction, the Hand of Faith, a 61-pound gold block said to be the largest in existence. Fertitta cited it as one reason he decided to host Gold to Go and was ready with a quip when asked why they're not selling other precious metals.
"It's the same reason you decide to sell steak and not doughnuts," he said. "Silver is $30 an ounce and gold is $1,400 an ounce. You'd have to sell a lot of it to make any money. Gold is gold and silver is silver. That's why this is the Golden Nugget and not the Silver Nugget."
One challenge Gold to Go might have in Vegas, Marshall noted, is that so much of the city features replicas of famous things, from the Statue of Liberty to Venetian gondoliers. Will some visitors, he wondered, assume that the gold in this machine is make-believe?
Still, given the continued strong market for gold, Marshall acknowledged that someone buying from the Gold to Go machine could make a profit. He expects the price of gold to continue to soar and, unlike a pair of fuzzy dice or a Bellagio T-shirt, this really is something that has enduring value.
"It can be turned into money anywhere on the planet," he said. "I just don't know who's going to walk up to a vending machine and buy it."