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Popular Casino Tricks Used to Manipulate You

| March 22, 2022 11:33 am PDT
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First, let me dispel one of the most resistant-to-fact casino tricks: Do casinos pump oxygen into the gambling floor?

No, they do not. Think about it – it takes three things to start a fire: Heat, fuel, and oxygen.

The casino’s already full of fuel (carpeting, clothing, you). Heat is present every time James Bond over there in the keno lounge lights another of his clove cigarettes.

All that’s needed is some oxygen. Hey, gang, here’s an idea—let’s pump extra oxygen into this enclosed space. What could it hurt, right? So, what if we fry a few of our patrons? Omelets and eggs, my friend.

It would be dangerous and foolish to pump pure oxygen into an enclosed space. While pumping oxygen into the casino might seem like a good idea, it isn’t. And casinos may be many things, but they are not foolish.

Still, dispelling that one myth doesn’t mean casinos tricks don’t exist. Casinos have a veritable grab-bag of clever ways to keep you happily pumping money into their slot machines.

Do you want to know how casinos trick you? Read on to find out the eight ways casinos manipulate you to spend more money, and then check out this casino guide for beginners

This Way to the Minotaur


Ever gotten lost in a casino? No, of course not. Me neither. If you’re reading this, please tell my family I’ll be home tomorrow. Probably.

More often than I admit, I have spent 15-20 minutes wandering around various casino-slash-labyrinths, enjoying the atmosphere, looking for the door I came in through.

It’s not only easy to get lost in a casino, the casino was specifically designed for it. One of the seminal sources for casino layout psychology is the book Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition, a 630-page bible for casino designers written by Bill Friedman.

Friedman, who studied hundreds of casinos over the years and taught the UNLV College of Hotel Administration’s pioneer course in casino management, made several discoveries during his research into casino design psychology that gamblers will instantly recognize.

Here are just a few:

  • Gambling equipment immediately inside casino entrances beats vacant entrance landings and empty lobbies.
  • The maze layout beats long, wide, straight passageways and aisles.
  • Gambling equipment as the décor beats impressive and memorable decorations.

So, remember this next time you’re lost in Caesars Palace or the MGM Grand: It’s science.

Hey, Look, 99-Cent Shrimp Cocktails!

Shrimp Cocktails

The freebies and unbelievably cheap deals are a favorite of casinos. It’s all on the house, from Motel Six-level room rates and free parking to the 99-cent shrimp cocktail, straight on through to the free Tony, Orlando, and Dawn tribute band concerts.

They seem positively philanthropic in their generosity. But wait. No, really, wait.

You just spent hours driving to the casino, and you’re going to turn around and drive home after that zipline ride?.

Just like cheap shrimp and even cheaper steaks, free drinks are a standard at casinos throughout the world. Pretty girls in scanty costumes roam the gambling floor, startling gamers with their cries of “cocktails!” even at night (not that you’re sure it is, in fact, nighttime).

The purpose is simple and obvious – if you’ve been drinking, your judgment is slightly impaired, however slightly.

It doesn’t take life-altering levels of bad judgment to get you to drop one more quarter in that slot machine or feed one last twenty into the bill acceptor now conveniently located in every slot machine.

Drinking at the casino can be fun, but it’s a bad idea. Suffice to say, it won’t improve your chances of winning at the casino. For tips that will, check out the guide below.

Monopoly Money and Tito

One of the first things the casino does when you arrive is getting you to exchange your real money for some things that aren’t money. That could be chips printed on various denominations or a slip of paper issued by a slot machine via its TITO mechanism.

Chips and TITO slips are two very powerful methods of dissociating you from your reverence for your money. Even the name TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out) separates you from the money it represents. It’s not $97.59 of money you worked hard for. It’s a ticket.

Paper money is not money; it is a fetishized token representing potential value. It is exchangeable for value but is not valuable in and of itself.

Don’t believe me? Give a dollar—or a million dollars—to a castaway on a deserted island. He may find uses for the bills, but using them to barter for goods and services won’t be among them.

Paper money is a symbol of exchange, and it represents the combined belief of virtually everyone in the world that it has the value printed on its surface.

You’ve been conditioned from the first time the tooth fairy left a dollar under your pillow to the Franklins you withdrew from the bank on your way out of town for the weekend.

Over the years, you have learned to treat printed money as something of real value—mostly because everyone else you know also believes it represents real value.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but paper money has value because the villagers in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” behaved the way they did. We’ve always believed that money is, well, money.

By the same token (see what I did there?), a plastic disk with a number on it doesn’t quite have the same juju. And a slip of paper printed out by a keno machine is something else, still.

And losing some or all of those chips or tickets doesn’t have the same emotional impact of “going broke.”

Casinos Don’t Have Clocks For a Reason

While the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere inside a casino might be difficult to measure with just our five senses, the absence of clocks is another thing entirely. There are no clocks in Vegas.

Clocks don’t hang from the walls in casinos because you are not meant to notice the passage of time. Why? Time is, in all the important ways, money. If you are suddenly made aware of the time, you might also become aware that you’ve spent next month’s mortgage payment on the Don’t Pass line.

Even with wristwatches and more recent development of smartphones that do everything for you, the absence of clocks or even daylight in modern brick and mortar casinos remains de rigueur at casinos.

You may be asking yourself, why do casinos not have clocks?I bet you’ve already figured out the answer: The longer you gamble, the more likely you will lose.

You could win a million dollars, and the first thing the casino would first comp you is a penthouse suite with hot & cold running servants for the week. And that wouldn’t be because they admired your skill and gambling acumen.

No, it would be because the longer you continue to play, the more likely the casino is to get that million back and whatever you are willing to risk.

Tempus fugit, as they say, but inside a casino, you would never know.

Can’t Open Up the Windows?

The windows of that comped hotel room you’re staying in don’t open for obvious reasons that are only tangentially related to your casino play downstairs.

But the casino’s floor has no windows for a particular reason: the casino has vital work for you to do. It wants you to be undistracted from your important work, feeding money into that slot machine.

Besides, if there were windows for you to look out of, you might notice the sun has gone down and is rising again (so that’s why you were yawning a minute ago).

You’re Our Grand Prize Winner

Big Win graphic

Slot machines are designed and programmed to over-react to every win—and it’s not to impress you (although you were a little impressed, admit it). All that hullabaloo and hoopla (as the kids say) is for the benefit of passers-by, who just might be enticed to try their luck.

Seeing “BIG WIN!” on the screen of a slot machine sure sounds like huge; good news. But we might not be so impressed if we knew it. “BIG WIN!) was for $14.50.

And if you think $14.50 is enough to send a slot machine into uncomfortably exuberant spasms of electro-mechanical joy, imagine a hand pay—yes, I said hand pay.

A slot host will notice your win (amazing, isn’t it, that while all the other gamblers have had plenty of time to wander over and see what all the alarms, buzzes, and whistles were about, the slot host is still on their lunch break).

After the machine’s win-them music has been printed on your psyche (hey, at least you do not hear “It’s a Small World” on a permanent mental loop, right?) Eventually, all parties must end, and in this case, it ends with the hand-pay.

A hand pay requires several people all converge on your seat the machine. One has a clipboard and wears a suit or uniform of some sort. They are important (the clipboard clinches it) and confirms that you care about your identification with a social security card.

Once that has happened, the slot host steps forward to count out your winnings. Notice that the last hundred or so are in smaller bills. Yes, you’re expected to tiptoe money-bringers and the ID checkers. Also, that third person you have no idea why is there.

That third person then performs a genuinely miraculous and blessed rite: They unlock and open the slot machine and turn that freaking WIN! Music off. If anyone deserves a tip, it’s that person. You may consider naming your next child after them. I have three kids named Sharon, incidentally.

Don’t think of this as an after-thought because it adds to the welcoming ambiance the casino pays big bucks for the piped-in music. That’s right. You hear Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” on the sound system as you zero in on that big win.

Do you also notice that everyone in the casino appears to be of an age that may have played air- guitar well when that song first appeared back in the late 60s?

Or is “Welcome to the Jungle” playing? Or is it “Uptown Funk” or simply “Happy”? The chances are excellent that most of your fellow gamblers fit the demographic of whichever song is playing overhead.

Casinos Use Scents to Encourage Gambling

Every sense you have is bombarded with whatever comfort each of your various senses requires to convince you that you’re in a safe and warm space where everything is cool, and you are nothing if not safe. And secure.

That includes your sense of smell. The Los Angeles Times first brought this phenomenon to light way back in 1992; its article “The Sweet Smell of Success” looked into the future and predicted a growing use of scents explicitly designed to encourage gambling.

The LA Times notes that a study by Dr. Alan Hirsch, a Chicago researcher in Chicago, found that Las Vegas Hilton gamblers dropped more than 45% more coins into various slot machines in an area of the casino that was scented with “a pleasant odor.”

Dr. Hirsch, who founded the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation as well as the, told the LA Times that the scent did not entice players from unscented areas of the casinos, but rather, it encouraged those within the fragrance’s area of influence to play longer.

It also accounted for the significant increase in revenue generation, er, I mean, gambling.

It’s Just Your Nature

Skinner Box

With all five senses being bombarded with obvious and subtle reasons that your mission in life is to coax big money from machines explicitly designed not to deliver on those expectations, it doesn’t seem cricket that human nature favors the casino.

We learn on a very foundational level to expect outcomes based on observation of the past. This is why most of the rest of the tribe developed skills at avoiding the sabertoothed tiger after watching it devour Garf, the tribe’s beloved mastodon-milker.

Throughout our lives, we acquire voluminous amounts of helpful knowledge from our own mistakes and those we’ve observed other people making.

We watched Evel Knievel fail to jump his motorcycle across the Snake River Canyon, and sure enough, few of us have stepped forward to better his performance.

The random reward is the most useful reward system if you want to encourage continued instances of risk. In layman’s terms, the fact that you cannot predict a jackpot on a slot machine encourages you to continue trying. You “learn” that people win jackpots on this machine, and, further, you learn that it has yet to payout.

What does that mean? The science behind this is operant conditioning, and the exact method is something called “variable ratio reinforcement.”

You are beaten before starting at the casino simply because you are a human being. But is the Skinner box really where we want to be?

Casino Tricks Don’t Apply to Bettors at Home

Brick-and-mortar casinos assault all five of your senses, using everything they can think of to keep you pressing that button, pulling that lever, or rolling those dice—all of which accomplish the one fundamental objective: separating you from that fabulous stuff in your wallet our quaint founding fathers called “moolah.”

No casino can offer you what you have available to you any time at all: the comforts of home.

Your living room, office, or den doesn’t care for casino tricks. There, you can have a drink (or not) while watching television and relaxing in a chair that fits you perfectly.

Casino tricks? I never heard of ‘em.

Sure, the online casinos have loyalty programs, so do grocery stores.

But while the online casinos count on the house advantage to ensure they remain profitable, they most definitely do not have access to the wide range of tricks used by most brick and mortar casinos to provide a healthy profit margin.

No. At home, we have nothing but the opportunity to focus on our gambling—calculating odds, counting our outs, handicapping the competitors, whether they be a football or basketball team, or a thoroughbred horse in the fifth tomorrow at Santa Anita.

Home is always there for us, safe, secure, and best of all, without the distractions of brick & mortar casino tricks.

If you’re interested in checking out casinos that can’t employ the aforementioned tricks, visit one of our best online casinos.

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J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

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