Anyone with any sense knows how profitable the casino business is. After all, those huge, ostentatious buildings cost money. That much air conditioning and that many employees cost money, too.
New gamblers get confused, because they see people winning right and left. How can a casino pay off so many winners and maintain so much profit-earning potential?
The simple answer is that the casino uses the math behind all the games in the casinos to guarantee themselves a mathematical edge over the player. All the bets pay off at odds that are slightly lower than the odds of winning.
In the short term, casino game players can win money because of statistical variation. Not only do the casinos not mind this, they rely on it. If no one ever won, no one would ever play.
But casinos are getting better at getting you to lose more money all the time.
Here are 7 ways casinos get you to lose more money that you might not have previously known about.
The first time I visited a casino was the Sands in Las Vegas. I was working for Hotels.com at the time, and it was the last weekend that the Sands was open. When a cocktail waitress there asked me if I wanted a drink, I turned her down.
I didn't realize that the drink was on the house.
Most people figure out that these drinks are complimentary fast, though.
If you remember that casinos don't do ANYTHING unless it results in more profits for them, you'll start to question their motives. That's the first step in keeping more money in your pockets.
In this case, it isn't hard to see how serving free drinks generates more revenue for the casinos than it costs. The more you drink, the less likely you are to quit gambling while you're ahead. Drunk gamblers are also more likely to make mistakes and lose more money than they intended to.
The smartest gamblers turn down the free drinks altogether. It's okay to enjoy a drink or two while you play, though, if that's your thing.
But if you're the type that has impulse control issues, you might be better off remembering what Nancy Reagan told us:
Just say no.
One of the fun aspects of being a casino customer is getting free food, drinks, lodging, and concert tickets. The thing you have to keep in mind, again, is that the casinos are offering these things to incentivize you to gamble more.
Most casinos have players' clubs or slots clubs where you get a plastic card to insert into the game you're playing. This card tracks how much action you're putting through the machine.
The casino rewards you with comps based on a percentage of your action.
It's important to understand that the casino is rewarding you for how much you're gambling, NOT for how much you're losing.
You get your comps even if you're winning.
The casinos understand that if you play long enough, they'll win their money back. That's where the house edge comes in.
Casino comps are an affordable way to reward you for your play. They're valuing the comps at a retail price, but they're paying a wholesale price for the reward.
That free $24 buffet you got?
It only cost the casino $8.
The free $200 room?
It was going to sit empty that night anyway.
You can read books about how to take advantage of the comps system and get a little bit ahead of the casino. If you're interested, read Comp City by Max Rubin and The Frugal Gambler by Jean Scott. The former is a proponent of blackjack, while the latter prefers video poker.
Both offer tremendous insight into how the comps systems work.
There's not much you can do to counter the casinos' strategy here. They design the floorplans of the casino so that you can't get anywhere in the property without walking through the gaming area.
Want to eat at a specific restaurant?
You have to walk through the casino.
Want to get to your hotel room?
You have to walk through the casino.
This is a no-brainer. If you're forced to walk through the casino, you're more likely to stop and play for a minute.
If you're like me, it doesn't take long for a minute to become half an hour. (And honestly, a half hour can turn into a couple hours, too.)
Slot machines are the most addictive game in the casino. The psychology behind their attraction for players is fascinating. I'll describe it briefly here:
BF Skinner was a behavioral scientist who invented something called a "Skinner box". It was a box with a lever on it. He used it to teach rats to pull a lever. If they did so, they were rewarded with a piece of cheese.
He modified this box to reward the rat with cheese intermittently. And he noticed an unexpected phenomenon:
The rats who got cheese only some of the time were MORE motivated to pull the lever than the rats who got cheese every time.
In short, Skinner had invented a rudimentary slot machine for rats.
It turns out that the lizard brain that responds to external stimuli works similarly in rats and humans.
People are more likely to play slot machines when they get near-misses on a regular basis.
In fact, the psychological effect of getting a set of symbols that almost win fires the same synapses and brain cells that get fired when you're winning for real.
With computer technology, slot machine designers have an incalculable amount of data about which hit frequencies are most motivating to players.
The net result of all this?
The average time spent on each machine goes up. The more time spent on a slot machine, the more money the casino wins.
This is an old trick that's universal throughout the casino industry. You'll never see a clock on the wall in a casino.
In fact, it's hard to tell whether it's day or night when you're on the casino floor. The sights and sounds are designed to specifically make that environment one in which the passage of time is not noticed.
If you decide to play slots for an hour and quit, but you don't see a clock on the wall, you're likely to forget and spend extra time on the machine.
And as we discussed in #4, more time spent in the casino equates to more money lost to the casino.
Casinos are always rolling out new games and new game variations to increase their profitability.
One example of this is a simple rules variation that became common on blackjack games a few years ago. Traditionally, blackjack pays off at 3 to 2. If you bet $100 and get a blackjack, you get $150 in winnings.
A few years ago, casinos started offering 6/5 blackjack. Instead of winning $150 on a $100 bet when you get a natural, you only get $120.
The net effect to the player is a higher house edge.
How much higher?
This is the difference between a game with a house edge of about 1% and a game with a house edge of about 2.4%.
How much does that cost an average player in an hour?
We can estimate that by calculating the expected hourly loss of a player in both versions of the game:
An average blackjack player with a lot of players at the table with her might get in 50 hands per hour. Assuming she's betting $20/hand, she's putting $1000 per hour into action.
A 1% house edge on $1000 in action is an estimated average loss per hour of $10.
Increase the house edge to 2.4%, and the expected hourly loss grows to $24.
Also, casinos roll out new games all the time. Not long ago, Casino War became the popular new game on the block.
But not only is the house edge on the game relatively high (2.32%), it moves twice as fast as blackjack. That $24/hour loss turns into $46/hour lost.
Dealers don't suggest bad strategies on purpose. They don't get a commission on your losses, after all.
But casino dealers aren't advantage gamblers or math experts. They sometimes get confused about how to bet and what decisions to make.
I have a friend who used to deal blackjack in Oklahoma at the Winstar Casino. She's a cute gal, but she doesn't know the first thing about basic strategy in blackjack. She also believes a lot of the more common myths about the game, like thinking that one player's decisions can screw up the luck of the entire table.
I'd guess that if you followed her advice on how to play every hand, you'd be facing a house edge of 3% or 4%.
Craps dealers love to suggest that you hedge your bets when playing craps. That's a pointless endeavor that does nothing to improve your odds of winning. They don't mean any harm by suggesting this play. But it can hurt you in the long run.
Casinos have countless ways to separate you from your money and your money from you. The 7 listed in this post are just some of the more interesting methods that you might not have already heard about.
Do you have examples of way casinos get you to lose more money faster?
Leave a message about it in the comments section.