7 Dirty Little Secrets About Las Vegas Casinos
Las Vegas casinos have a vested interest in putting their best foot forward with gamblers. After all, if you knew all the bad stuff about the casinos, you might be less likely to visit. With fewer visitors, casinos make less money.
They keep some stuff on the “down low” to keep their number of visitors high.
This post exposes some of the dirty little secrets about Las Vegas casinos. You might already know some of them. Some you might not know about yet, but they won’t necessarily be a surprise to you. Some might shock you if you hadn’t thought about them.
I’m not trying to talk you out of visiting the casinos, by the way. I love to gamble. I think it’s great if you like to gamble, too.
But I think being an informed consumer is a good goal for anyone. This includes people who like to play blackjack or slot machines. It includes people who like to play poker. And it includes people who want to bet on sports.
With these dirty little secrets exposed, you can make better, more educated decisions about the casinos you visit in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
1- Some Bets Are WAY Worse Than Others
The casinos measure their mathematical edge over the player with a number called “the house edge.” It’s expressed as a percentage. Over time, the casino expects to win the house edge on every bet you place.
You see, the casino games give you certain odds of winning. The payoff odds aren’t commensurate with the odds of winning. This inequity creates a situation where the casino wins in the long run.
In the short term, you can win. In fact, it’s impossible to see the house edge come to fruition in a single bet or 2. It’s a long-term average, which means that you’ll usually only start seeing the results start to look like the house edge over the course of 1000s of bets.
If I say that a casino game has a house edge of 1.41%, it means that the casino expects to win $1.41 on average for every $100 bet you place. 1.41%, by the way, is the house edge on the pass line bet in craps, which is the most basic and most common bet you can place when shooting dice.
But the craps table offers LOTS of other bets. Most of them have a house edge far greater than 1.41%. The worst bets at the craps table are the proposition bets. These bets often have a house edge of 10% or higher.
When a bet has a higher house edge than another bet, it makes it harder to win. When you do win, you usually win less money. And when you lose, you usually lose more money.
Generally, the lower the house edge is, the better the game.
The house edge varies from game to game and sometimes from bet to bet in the same game. The casino doesn’t want you to be too well-educated about these numbers. You might make decisions that lower their profits if you do.
2- You Are Under Surveillance Almost Constantly
Las Vegas is the most surveilled city in the world. Most casinos have hundreds or thousands of cameras recording the action on the casino floors 24/7. The casinos’ goal is to prevent cheaters from cheating.
But don’t stress out about it too much. Even though you’re on camera, most casinos have relatively few employees watching the video feed. Most of the time, the camera footage only becomes an issue when there’s a dispute about something.
The cameras, by the way, are located in the ceiling above the casino. They’re called “the eye in the sky.” One of the reasons you’re supposed to use hand signals when you play blackjack is because there’s a visual record of what you’ve done. It’s unrealistic for the casino to have audio recording your decision to say hit. This way if someone takes a hit and busts, they can’t go back to the casino and say the dealer was at fault.
This works in your favor, too, though. If the dealer makes a mistake, it’s also caught on camera.
I don’t believe that cheating at a casino is in your best interest—especially in Las Vegas, where cheating at casino games is a felony. If you ARE going to cheat, though, you need to find a way to do it where it’s not obvious what you’re doing on camera.
At one time, casinos used facial recognition software to try to catch card counters, too. I think that’s obsolete, now, since the Griffin Agency went out of business.
At any rate, you should know you’re under surveillance when you’re playing games in the casino.
3- The Casinos Don’t Make Much Money from Poker
A decade ago or so, all the casinos in Las Vegas who didn’t have poker rooms started opening cardrooms. The so-called “Poker Boom” was in full effect after Chris Moneymaker’s amazing WSOP win. The casinos wanted to take advantage of that excitement and attract the poker players to their casinos.
Now that poker isn’t such a big deal, poker rooms are closing on the Strip right and left. That’s mostly because poker doesn’t drive a lot of direct revenue to the casinos. Sure, if someone visits the casino specifically to play poker, they’ll probably play some casino games while they’re there. It’s just that fewer people are visiting casinos to play poker nowadays.
There’s a big difference between poker and casino games. When you’re playing a casino game, the house is betting its money against yours. It makes sure it has a huge edge over you. Casinos make a lot of money from most casinos games—even the ones with a “small” house edge, like blackjack. That’s because a game like blackjack counts on skillful play. Most blackjack players in Vegas don’t understand the correct strategy.
But in poker, you’re competing with the other players for their money. The casino makes its money by taking a small percentage of each pot—usually 5%. They also usually have a maximum rake. Most cardrooms also have a “no flop, no drop” rule, which means if the players don’t see the flop, the casino doesn’t collect a rake.
When you look at the revenue generated per hour by the poker room and compare it to the revenue generated per hour by a bank of slot machines, it’s hard to justify the use of that space for the cardroom.
Also, don’t expect to get a lot of comps if you’re playing poker. I did everything but beg the cardroom manager at Planet Hollywood to buy us all Pink’s hot dogs. He wouldn’t do it.
4- Card Counting Really Does Work, and It’s Completely Legal
So some gamblers haven’t gotten the memo about counting cards in blackjack yet. Not only does it work, but it’s relatively easy compared to what most people think is involved. Also, there are no laws anywhere in the United States against thinking about a game while you’re playing it.
Card counting works because it tracks, in a general way, the ratio of high cards (aces and 10s) to low cards left in the deck. If you have a deck with a proportionally larger number of aces and 10s in it, you’re likelier to be dealt a blackjack—a 2-card hand that totals 21. Since that hand pays off at 3 to 2, you stand to gain when the deck is like that.
Card counters raise the size of their bets when the deck is positive.
Casinos can’t have you arrested for counting cards, because it’s not cheating. They’d love for you to believe that it is, though. And they reserve the right to ban you from their blackjack games or even from the casino itself.
That’s a far cry from being arrested or prosecuted, though.
If you count cards well, you can gain an advantage of 1% or 2% against the casino. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to make a living if you’re good at it.
Most gamblers aren’t cut out to be card counters, though.
5- All That Free Stuff Comes at a High Cost
Everyone knows that you can get free drinks at most casinos just by gambling. Everyone also knows that if you gamble enough, you can get free meals, free rooms, and free show tickets. You can even get cash rebates on your losses.
Most people don’t understand the math behind the comps system well, though. Modern casinos track how much you’re gambling via your player’s club card. They then award you free stuff at a percentage, usually 0.2% to 0.3% of what you’ve wagered.
Since the casino games have a mathematical edge over the player well in excess of that, the casino stands to make significant profits. If you gamble enough to get the VIP treatment, you’ll eventually lose a lot more money in gambling losses than your “comps” are worth.
Some gamblers are smarter than others, though, and they work the comps system hard. Max Rubin wrote a book called Comp City which explains how to become a “comp wizard.” Much of the logic in that book still applies in today’s casinos, even though the book is dated now.
Another gambling expert, Jean Scott, has written a series of books about “frugal” gambling. She focuses on playing video poker with the best pay tables and strategies to get the house edge as close to 0% as possible. The gains from the comps system are just a bonus on top of that, and they can make video poker close to a break even game.
At the end of the day, though, the casino profits from giving away all that free stuff. Don’t ever forget that.
I have a friend who lost over $1000 one weekend not long ago playing slot machines at the Winstar. His goal was to move up to the next tier in player rewards at the casino. Now he has a free covered spot by the pool next time he stays at the hotel.
That’s a high price to pay for some shade.
6- The Casinos Don’t Mind if You Win
Some gamblers think that the casino gets mad at winners. They even think that the casino might change the odds on games to make it likelier for those gamblers to lose their winnings back to the casino. The really suspicious suspect the casinos of cheating.
The truth is, the casino is counting on a percentage of players to walk away with winnings. If no one ever went home with winnings in their pockets, no one would play at the casinos, and they’d go out of business. The casinos understand that they have a long-term mathematical advantage.
Your short-term wins don’t change that mathematical edge. The casino knows that if it sticks with the games long enough, they’ll eventually show a profit that’s not only healthy but practically obscene.
Your winnings are just a cost of doing business.
I read somewhere that about 20% of casino patrons walk away from the casino as winners on any given visit to the property. This means that 80% of the players lose money while they’re there. If 80% of your customers are losing, you can easily afford to pay off the winnings to the 20% who’ve won.
Casinos just don’t worry about your short-term wins unless it looks like you’re cheating somehow.
7- The Casino Is Probably Far Dirtier Than You Think
If you’ve visited a Las Vegas casino, you probably noticed a lot of people coming and going. Some of them are sick. Some of them have poor hygiene. Some of them land in both camps.
If you’re not washing your hands on a regular basis, you’re making a big mistake. It’s easy to get sick in that kind of environment. Germs and bacteria are serious business.
I don’t think you need to wear a surgical mask and gloves in the casino.
But I do think you need to wash your hands and avoid touching your face while you’re there.
When’s the last time you saw a casino employee cleaning or sanitizing a slot machine game?
Yeah, me neither.
I’ve also seen horror stories about people who’ve urinated on themselves while seated at a slot machine. I’ve seen tales of people having sex in public places in the casino when no one was watching. Plenty of people drink too much at the casino, which means they might have vomited somewhere recently.
All that being said, I don’t think you should stress out about how dirty the casinos are. Just use some common sense. Washing your hands a lot seems to be the most important thing you can do to protect your health when you’re visiting someplace that’s not especially hygienic.
The casinos are probably no worse than many other public places, they just have a lot more people churning through them at any given time.
Casinos aren’t known for being bastions of transparency. There are many aspects of their operation that they’d probably just as soon their customers remain unaware of. Some of these are more-or-less harmless, like the amount of surveillance you’re under.
Some of these “dirty little secrets” are things you should be aware of, though. Understanding why the casinos don’t mind winners, for example, is an important aspect of understanding how casino gambling works altogether. Understanding that some bets are FAR worse than others can help you get the most entertainment for your money.
A thorough, hard-nosed attitude about the relative value of freebies in exchange for the action you’re bringing the casino is also healthy and prudent.
I’ve probably left some of the casinos’ secrets off the list. It’s possible they have secrets I don’t even know about yet. Maybe some investigation and a future post are in order. We’ll see.