Just how many secrets do casinos keep to themselves?
Everyone loves to hear about industry insider secrets. In fact, the demand for good gambling tips ensures that someone is always publishing a list of insider secrets.
For this post, I picked the 7 best secrets of the casino industry that deserve more attention from players and experts alike.
The day the casino industry has no more secrets is the day all players will be on a more equal footing with the gambling industry.
Although casinos need to make a profit in order to pay their employees, there’s no reason you should just roll over and let them walk all over you.
Here are a few secrets of the casino industry you should be aware of:
1. The House Edge Is Better Than the Gambling Experts Say
What secrets do casinos not want you to know? Industry insiders occasionally share insights into how casinos operate.
Not to depress you or discourage you from having fun, but when you read articles about gambling that claim “the house edge is 5% for this game or 20% for that game”, it can really get your skeptic game going.
The “house edge” is a theoretical percentage estimating how much money a casino might retain over time.
This theoretical percentage is misleading for several perfectly legal reasons:
Theoretical percentages don’t take into consideration bad gambling practices. A theoretical percentage, whether estimating a player’s chance of success or the casino’s expected return, implies that both casino and player are performing 100% optimally. The casinos have it easier than players because the games are designed to give them an edge. Players, on the other hand, have to make good choices about which games to play and how to bet.
Most gamblers make less than optimal choices. I’m not saying you are bad at gambling. It’s just human nature to make mistakes or to use gambling systems that really don’t work.
The bottom line?
Look at the monthly financial reports commercial casinos are required to file with regulatory agencies. Their actual return is often as much as 25-40% rather than the modest 5-10% that theoretical estimates suggest.
Many slot machines on casino floors today are designed to provide a theoretical return to player above 90%.
But not all of them.
Casinos often keep 30% or more of what players gamble on the slots. Some of the games have much higher theoretical returns for the casino, so the overall return to player for the casino as a whole is lower.
And you have no way to distinguish between the higher-paying slot machine games and the lower-paying slot machines games..
2. The Casino is Not as Clean and Pristine as It Looks
While this is generally true of every public space that is used by hundreds or thousands of people per day, casino employees occasionally reveal to news organizations some of the more disgusting things that patrons may do.
One of those disgusting activities that most casinos experience is a failure to use the restroom (loo) facilities. A small percentage of patrons would rather soil themselves than get up from a slot game and go use the facilities.
Hygiene experts estimate that more than 10% of Americans do not wash their hands regularly after using the toilet. These people spread germs and fecal matter everywhere they go. You’ll occasionally see articles in the news media warning you about fecal matter found in hotel swimming pools, on stadium seats, in public restrooms, and more.
Truth be told, the packaged food you buy at your local grocer is likely to be at least mildly contaminated by the people who handled it before you. There’s no way to keep all these germs and dirty residues from accumulating on the things we touch throughout the day.
In that respect, your local casino is probably no worse off than most public venues. If you don’t see the poop, that surely means the casino is using its scoop.
But even though the casinos vacuum and mop and wipe and clean surfaces constantly, they’re NOT sterile environments. You’re spreading your germs and dirt to the people who come after you, just as you are receiving germs and dirt from people who sat at a slot game or table before you.
The bottom line?
Be considerate of your fellow guests and practice good hygiene. If you’re so into gambling that you don’t get up and take a break at least once every 30 minutes, you should do a self-health assessment.
Gambling is fun, but don’t forget to move around and get some low-impact exercise. Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating a burger or sandwich at the casino’s cafe.
3. Your Gambling Activity Is Recorded on Computers
If you plug a players’ club membership card into a game the casino can keep track of your every spin or roll. There’s an entire software industry that supports the gambling industry. Some of these software firms design both games and membership management programs; any electronic game is now designed to report player activity back to a central system.
That’s how you earn your rewards.
The casino runs reports that analyze player activity. They learn from what the players are doing.
That’s how they know when to order more units of a popular game, when to retire a game no one plays any more, and when to service machines.
Consumer advocates across the globe are raising alarms about the widespread use of machine learning to analyze customer data in many industries.It should come as no surprise that the gambling industry does this too.
If anything, online casinos may collect and use more customer data than land-based casinos.
The systems are usually marketed as “gaming platforms” and may provide one-stop services for everything the casino needs to do. This includes managing traditional accounting records and providing players with detailed reports of which games they played and what bets they placed.
Each casino decides what data it shares with players. You’re more likely to find player performance reporting tools in online gambling accounts than in land-based casinos. It’s just a more practical service for online casinos.
Every legally licensed casino has to manage this data carefully. Their collection and use of customer data is regulated, but it’s not–by any means–a transparent process. Casinos live and die by customer data. They need to achieve critical volumes in player wagers, payouts, and gross profits.
Otherwise they can’t stay in business.
Your activity is less likely to be monitored in such detail at so-called “roadside casinos”, the small gambling parlors that have 1-2 tables for card games and a few dozen slot machines.
But don’t be fooled.
All they need is a server in a back room office that you don’t see in order to network all their machines together for reporting and analytics.If the establishment offers you a plastic card that you can insert into a gambling game, they are recording at least some data about you.
4. Casino Security Is Less Invasive in Poker Rooms
Unlike most other gambling games, poker is not that big a money maker for casinos. They take fees from the players rather than stake their own money in wagers against the players.
In other words, if you play a slot machine game or gamble at the roulette table, the casino is putting its own money at risk. They have cameras and trained staff watching you all the time.
But in the poker rooms, security is mostly up to the players–who are staking their own money against each other. The casinos ensure the players have a safe environment in which to play.
But they don’t have nearly as much to lose in a poker game as they do in a game of craps or blackjack.
Overall casino security serves 2 purposes:
To protect the patrons from crime and violence. If the casinos don’t provide a safe environment few people will visit them.
To protect their assets against cheating gamblers. Successful cheaters are rare.But they come along often enough that the casinos have to take stringent measures to defend against them.
If you’re not trying to get an unfair advantage you should have nothing to worry about. No one in casino security wants to fantasize about your button pushing action. They just have a job to do like everyone else.
But if you’re really creeped out by casino security then either learn to play poker or consider gaming online.
5. Casinos Seed Players Among Regular Players
Does every casino do this?
I can’t say.
But in states like Nevada, it’s common for land-based casinos to seed players in the poker rooms. They are there as “professional gamblers” to keep the games going. They’re called “prop” players because they “prop” up the game when it otherwise wouldn’t have enough players.
Prop players use their own money to gamble with.
But the casinos pay them an hourly wage to play.
“Shills”, on the other hand, play with casino money. They have nothing to lose. A few states still allow casinos to hire shills. You have to know the laws of the state to know whether the player next to you could be (legally) shilling.
Some gambling experts say if you sit down at a table where the dealer knows 1-2 of the players really well, you should walk away. The reason is that these guys are regulars and may be professional gamblers. If you’re not very experienced in playing cards, why take on the pros when you don’t have to?
Your chances of running into a professional prop or shill player are less likely if everyone at the table is a stranger.
6. Betting the Maximum on Slots Often Pays Better
This rule of thumb varies by slot game.
And truth be told, players have become savvy enough that they may be less likely to bet on the more complicated slot games. The “max bet” option works best on games that have multiple activated “pay lines”.
If you reduce the amount you bet and the number of active pay lines also goes down, your chances of winning decrease dramatically.
In other words, say you sit down at a slot machine game with 50 pay lines. In order to play at the level of the theoretical return to player, you have to bet on all pay lines at all times. That can be expensive on a machine that requires a 25 cent per line wager.
Most of the time, the difference is the big jackpot. If the only way you can win the big jackpot is to play max coin, then the payback percentage drops dramatically. If the size of the top jackpot doesn’t change whether you play for max coin or not, the payback percentage might not change, either.
Some games have rules for special bonus play, where you’re only going to trigger these extra games if you bet the maximum wager. Even if you don’t have the option of deactivating pay lines, a $1 wager may not have a chance of winning a certain type of bonus round, whereas a $5 wager (the maximum bet) would.
The games are supposed to be clearly marked when they require a maximum bet for any special round of play.
But they don’t have to clearly state that deactivating pay lines lowers your chances of receiving a payoff.
7. The Electronic Games Are Not Yet Truly Random
You’ll hear all about the “random number generators” that run games in both online and land-based casinos.
But what the casinos don’t tell you is that these clever electronic devices are not yet truly random.
They’re “random enough,” because they generate large lists of numbers that are impossible for humans to predict. Every year mathematical researchers and computer engineers announce that we’re one step closer to developing true random number generation.
But it sounds an awful lot like Zeno’s Arrow Paradox.
Zeno was a Greek philosopher who studied the laws of motion. He observed that an arrow flying through the air will close half the remaining distance to its target, and then close half the remaining distance again, and again.
And if the arrow only ever closes half the distance, then how do it finally reach its target?
Of course the paradox is easily explained away when you take the length of the arrow into consideration. As soon as the distance between arrow and target is shorter than the length of the arrow, the paradox resolves itself.
With research into random number generation no one really knows when we’ll get there. Experts believe that we’ll probably solve this problem when quantum computers become cheap and practical.
But even then we may discover that it’s possible to reverse engineer quantum-based RNGs.
And the random number generators on some games from the early 2000s have in fact been reverse-engineered. Eastern European criminals devised an elaborate scheme where they used a supercomputer to analyze images players transmitted to them of slot machine games. The supercomputers were able to tell the players when to push SPIN so they won big jackpots.
Several people were arrested in connection with this scheme.
Random number generation is important to you, the player, because it makes everything less certain for both the casino and other players. You’re just as likely to win a big jackpot as the next guy if neither of you knows when a jackpot will be paid.
By the same token, the casino is (almost) just as likely to lose as you are if it doesn’t know when the next jackpot is coming. The RNGs are good at keeping everyone in the dark even if they are not perfectly random.
Informed playing begins with a willingness to learn about how the gambling industry works. Everyone knows the games are designed to favor the casinos, but there is more working against you than just the games.
Casinos are banking on players to make mistakes, poor choices, and to play in isolation.
Furthermore, the casinos are gathering data and using it to improve their game.
While that may seem unfair, it’s really just business as usual. The average modern grocery store collects a lot of data about its customers, too.
As long as you keep the gaming experience in perspective and treat it as a form of entertainment, you should be okay.
Know how much you’re willing to spend on being entertained. That way you can enjoy the sights and sounds.
You ca’t change the odds of any game, but you can control your own style of play. That, really, is where the player’s skill and experience make a difference.
And remember that your health is important, too. Practice good hygiene, remember to take breaks, and don’t overindulge in either alcohol or the food.
I want you to come home and be able to enjoy life.