Sometime in the distant future, maybe the year 3225 or so, when historians are studying ancient Western society (or what will be ancient Western society by the time), they will marvel at one particular human enterprise perhaps more than any other: the epic, money-sucking efficiency of casinos.
The way casinos have turned the act of separating us from our money into such a marvel of precision and ingenuity is every bit as awe-inspiring as the Egyptian pyramids.
“I could give you a guaranteed method to go into a casino and come out with a small fortune: go in there with a large one,” laughs Sal Piacente, a former casino dealer and security staffer who now runs UniverSal Game Protection Development, a company that trains casino staff members. He and other casino insiders know that casinos exist to not only take our money, but to keep as much of theirs as possible — both by offering games that are tilted in the house’s favor and by having air-tight security measures designed to catch thieves and cheaters.
So Yahoo Travel talked to Sal and other casino experts with decades of experience in the industry to get some dirty little secrets of casinos. Not only are these secrets juicy — knowing them might help you keep a little bit more of your money during your next casino trip. But probably just a little bit.
It’s common knowledge that just about every game you’ll find in a casino is tilted in the house’s favor. But Sal says some games are worse than others. “A lot of these games are designed so that the player can’t win,” says Sal. “That’s why the players have to realize they need to stay away from certain games.”
The top of his list: so-called "carnival games,” which are table games other than the traditional casino fare such as blackjack, craps, and baccarat. “Three-card poker, Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud — all these games have high house advantages where the casino has a strong edge,” Sal says. “People like these games because of the bigger payouts: They get paid 9-to-1, 8-to-1, 250-to-1. But you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win in those games.”
Sal has particular disdain for Double Exposure Blackjack, which he considers a particular ripoff, thanks to strict rules on when you can double down and the fact that if you tie with the dealer without a blackjack, the dealer wins. “That’s over a 9 percent house advantage,” Sal says. “The dealer should be wearing a [robber’s] mask when he deals that game!”
“There are games tourists can play that they have better chances at,” says Derk Boss, a licensed Nevada private investigator and casino security surveillance expert. For one, he points to traditional blackjack. “You can reduce the house advantages by being a skilled player or studying the game,” he says. He also likes video poker. “That’s a game where there are strategies you can study,” he says. “It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win, but it gives you a much better chance. It’s going to reduce the house advantage and put things a little bit more in your favor.”
A couple of gamblers drinking a glass of champagne (iStock)
Anyone who’s spent time in a casino knows they are designed to make sure you’ll lose track of the time (and of the money you’re probably losing). That means no windows and no clocks. “Two in the morning is the exact same thing as two in the afternoon,” says Sal. Some casinos have gone to desperate, and sexy, measures to keep you there and gambling. “They have stripper poles, they have party pits,” Sal says. “You go to Vegas right now, it looks like a gentlemen’s club. You see girls dancing on the poles. It keeps the guys at the table.”
And don’t be fooled by the “free” food and drink offers you might get. Those have the same purpose. “I love when people say, ‘Sal, they gave me a $20 buffet for free!’” Sal says, laughing. “You sat at a blackjack table, you lost $200 and they gave you a $20 buffet.” That’s what you all a good return on investment.
If you’re in a casino, you can assume you’re being watched. “Casinos are very well-covered with surveillance cameras,” says Derk. “Once someone arrives at our property, if we needed to put together their movements over their entire stay, we could easily do so. We would be able to track their movements on the property just about wherever they went — except for like the bathroom and into their hotel room.”
Casinos generally use surveillance to look out for criminals who prey on tourists and the cheaters. And, yes, Derk says they can actually zoom in on your cards if they wanted to. So somewhere in the casino, in a locked, high-tech room, a security guard you’ll never see might be telling you to “hit.”
You can bet on it: if you hit a big jackpot, or get on a major hot streak, security has its eyes on you. “When someone is winning a lot of money, they’re always going to get checked by us,” Derk says. “They’re not going to know it, of course. Say a guy wins $100,000 on a blackjack game. I just want to make sure that it’s legal, that he didn’t cheat, that he didn’t count cards or something like that.”
Derk says in that instance, security will do a player evaluation: They will review his/her play on video for signs of cheating or card counting. Then they’ll check out the player. “We have a database of bad guys that are out there and what kind of scams they pull, so we’re gonna check for that,” Derk says.
Slot winners get the same scrutiny. “Say someone wins $500,000 on a slot machine jackpot,” says Derk. “We’re going to review it but we’re just going to make sure everything’s okay — that they didn’t open the machine or do something to it.”
But don’t worry: Security isn’t out to harass winners. “As long as it’s legitimate, we’re okay and we move on,” Derk says. “We want people to win money or else they won’t play.”
Gambling and cheating. Ace of hearts from the sleeve (iStock)
Poker players know all about “tells,” behaviors that give away a certain action or intention. Card counters and cheaters have tells, too, and security is on the lookout for all of them. “We look for cheating tells,” says Derk. “Those are just behaviors that, when you’re trained to spot them, they stand out a little bit.” While Derk didn’t want to give away too many of these tells, he did spill a few of them:
--Two guys sitting close together — Derk says two guys playing blackjack at the same table rarely sit close together, especially when there are empty seats. “Most guys just don’t sit like that,” he says. “Women will, most guys will not.” Derk says when you do see that, it’s a potential sign that the pair may be secretly switching cards. “They’re trying to make one strong hand — which, believe me, happens,” he says. “They sit close together and have their arms folded after they’re handed their cards. We suspect that [indicates] they’re switching cards, so that’ll get our attention.”
--Strange or extreme money management — Say someone is betting $100 for three or four hands, then from out of nowhere, bets $10,000. “That to us is an indicator that maybe they’re receiving information,” says Derk. “Maybe they can see the hole card, maybe they’re card counting, maybe they’re tracking a clump of cards. They’re waiting for a certain condition to arrive in the game, so they’re going to play minimally until that change happens and once that happens they’ll hit.” Derk says that’s a major red flag.
--“Rubber-necking” — A dead giveaway of a slot machine saboteur. “If somebody is cheating a slot machine, invariably, they’ll sit at it and they don’t really have to look at the machine because they know what they’re going to cause it to do,” says Derk. “So they’re usually looking around, from one side to the other, looking for security. That’s what we call 'rubber-necking.’ That’s a big tell for us because [normal] slot players don’t do that — they play their machine and they don’t want to be bothered. So if you look around like that, that’s going to get out attention and we’ll stop to figure out why.
“Believe it or not, we don’t spend a whole lot of time on poker at all,” says Derk. For one, since poker players play against each other, and not the house, the casino doesn’t have much money at stake. The poker players themselves, do, however, and that’s the second reason why casino security staffers don’t need to monitor poker rooms that closely.
“The players really police themselves,” Derk says. “When you get people who play poker all the time, they know when someone is screwing off or trying to take advantage of something and they’ll say something. They pay attention to it better than anybody.”
It’s a basic bit of casino etiquette, but tip your dealers. “Dealers make minimum wage or in some places might make a little bit more than minimum wage,” says Sal. “A dealer’s salary is all tips.”
Sal’s wife and business partner, Dee — a former casino dealer herself — agrees. But she says that despite common casino policy, most dealers would prefer that, instead of handing them a chip or two as a tip, players just put the tip up as a bet. “If a player asks you if you want to bet it or if you just want to take the tip, you’re supposed to just take the tip,” Dee says. “But most of us want to bet it because you have chance of doubling your money.”
When someone loses their shirt, you can expect some silent pity, but not much else. “I can feel sorry for the guy, but I can’t say, 'Sir, you’ve lost enough, you’d better walk away,’” Sal says. “It’s not my job. There’s nothing I can do.”
Still, Sal admits dealers do find themselves following the players’ success, or lack thereof. “If a guy’s tipping, you don’t want him to lose,” he says. “If a guy’s not tipping, you’re rooting for him to lose!”
What’s the most common case of casino malfeasance Sal has dealt with? Hint: It’s not 11 tech-savvy scammers led by George Clooney. “This is not as Hollywood as you would think, but honestly, it’s dealers just reaching in, grabbing a chip and shoving it in their pocket,” Sal says. “Nothing sophisticated.” That’s the reason behind all those strange rituals you may see dealers do. “Everything the dealers do was put in place for a reason,” Sal says. For example, when a dealer leaves a table, they have to “clear their hands.” “They clap their hands and turn their hands palm up and palm down for the camera to show, 'I’m not stealing nothing,’” says Sal.
If a dealer is stealing, Sal says there are many different ways security will handle it, depending on where the casino is. “In Vegas, they’ll arrest you right at a table,” he says. “They’ll actually handcuff and walk you right out so everybody gets to see you. They call it 'The Walk of Shame.’ Some places, they don’t want the negative publicity. They’d rather do it off the game. So maybe they’ll call you to the manager’s office and arrest you there.”
Sure, it’s no secret that in a casino, the game is rigged, numerically, at least. “The longer you’re there, the more the numbers are going to take over and the casino’s going to make money,” says Dee. “Let’s be realistic; they’re in it to make money.” But even though we know the score, that doesn’t take away from how much fun casinos are. “People come there to have a good time,” says Dee. “So if you’re having a good time along the way and you win a few bucks or you lose a few bucks, great.”
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