Sometimes, walking through a busy casino makes me feel like a five-year-old kid, lost in the home section of Sears and wishing I could find my parents. People are shouting and pushing past me in a hurry, crazy bells and lights are going off. Basically, it’s a nightmare. And it’s done on purpose.

Think I’m exaggerating? Try walking through Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on a weekend evening and tell me it’s not crazy. The casino is shaped like the biggest doughnut in the world, and it’s the Twilight Zone in there. Last time I was there, I passed the party pit twice trying to find the poker room. It took me 15 minutes of fighting against the flow of traffic to realize the card room was not where I thought it was.

Coincidence? Not a chance. The casino layout is one of the best ways management has to extract my money from me. It’s laid out tactically, like a war zone, and I got caught in the Demilitarized Zone.

They get you in the door, funnel you past all the things that don’t make much money, and deposit you where you can do the most damage to your bankroll. That’s their plan. Hold you tight until you go broke, and then send you past the cashier’s cage and a bank of ATMs where you can reload.

All right, it might not be quite that bad, but really, they want those slot machines right where they are to trap you. It’s the same with the table games, the restaurants, and the bathrooms. There’s no accident.

Years ago, casinos in Las Vegas had a small entrance lobby that led directly into the casino. You had to walk through a field of slot machines just to get to the hotel front desk. Ah, the better to capture you, my little pretty. You and your little wad of bills, too.

That hasn’t changed much. Last week at the MGM in Vegas, I noticed that nearly every entrance put me smack-dab in the middle of the casino. In fact, I could only see the hotel check-in sign from one entrance! And there are 5,000 hotel rooms, all situated far from the Strip entrance I took. The slot machines, signs, and restaurants dominate the view for what seems like city blocks. It is city blocks.

The $1 and higher slot machines are clearly in view, but finding some nickel slots is tough. Low-denomination slots are stuck somewhere in the back, by the bus entrance. Better to have you give up and play at least the quarter machines first.

Need a restroom? Well, good luck finding one. Some casinos only have restrooms off the casino floor, either upstairs or downstairs. In a wheelchair or using a walker? Tough! They weren’t wasting precious main floor space for a bathroom. Only legislation that demanded accesses for all guests changed that. It’s better now, but you must have the stamina to get to the restrooms.

The Psychological Design

Today, new casinos cater more to guest needs, even if that isn’t always the owner’s priority. You will have to walk past table games and slots to get to the restaurants and hotel. Accept this.

Even if you hadn’t planned on gambling, your interest would be piqued when passing all those winking and blinking slot machines. If you haven’t been to a casino in a long time, the machines are amazing now, with videos, bonus screens, and themes that include hit movies and TV shows. It’s tough walking right past those things. You don’t want to miss out on the fun or the winning. Casino designers know this.

So, the restaurants are most often placed well inside the casino, but still close to the slots and table games. If you are playing and get hungry, you can duck into the restaurant for a quick bite.

Likewise, the hotel rooms are usually situated just beyond the table games. You can run down from your room and be playing in three minutes. That’s hard to resist.

Sometimes the poker room is close to a parking lot because casino owners have given up on those weird poker players who rarely stray from the eternal battle for pots to wander the casino. Still, while the back entrance might lead to the poker room, the front entrance leads right into the main casino. Always.

Lower-earning gaming like bingo and keno have been relegated to the dingy far reaches of most casinos. Some bingo rooms aren’t even close to the casino; they are down dark, scary hallways and housed on different floors. And why is that? Because the games don’t generate much revenue anymore.

Keno, for instance, often has a house edge as high as 28%, the worst return in the casino. That doesn’t stop some players from giving it a whirl, usually because games can be played for as little as a buck a game. Still, the old-fashioned design and play of the game only allows six or eight games to be drawn per hour and that’s way too slow for most casino players these days.

The biggest-earning games get the most promotion. The only exception is the high-limit rooms that many casinos have. They too can be slightly secluded, but that’s just for the comfort of the casinos’ biggest players.

If you remember the 80-20 rule, well, it can be an even higher percentage in casinos. Today, large properties can get 90% of their revenue from a select, upper-crust 10% of their players. Their whales. They get the sizzling steak delivered to their tables. Most of us get hot dogs at the café.

Casino Designers

Architects used to have the most impact on casino designs, based on the owner’s need. Today, companies specialize in providing designs that show off a property’s best assets, provide good traffic flow, and utilize the gaming floor strategically to get the most money out of every bit of real estate.

Still, the CEO, CFO, and general manager are likely to have a substantial impact on the final design chosen. No matter how the plans start, they will tweak it repeatedly and fight tooth and nail to get the most they can for their group, whether slots, table games, or poker.

In the 1970s, the table game department was the king of revenue, accounting for 75% of a casinos’ income. Peripheral outlets like gift shops, restaurants, and the hotel weren’t even required to be profitable. They were there to support the gaming. Oh, how things have changed.

Today’s casinos often offer more than just a restaurant and a few bars. In fact, most properties now offer at minimum a steakhouse, café, seafood or oriental-themed room, and a buffet. The larger the hotel, the more restaurants on property.

Does that help with the gaming? Sure, it does. Not everyone likes to gamble, so choosing a property that has excellent food can be a big factor for couples or a group of friends that want to spend an evening out at the casino.

And that’s another reason you will still see marginally profitable games like keno still available. Got to have something for everyone. Just don’t expect it to be easy to get to.

The Final Design of the Casino Floor

The final design you encounter can have a big impact on your success in a casino. Keep in mind why you dropped by in the first place so you don’t let the psychology beat you.

If the poker room doesn’t have seating available, do you head right over to the craps game and shoot dice until you’re busted? If so, the design and environment got the better of you.

No static casino is going to be exciting. That’s why you’ll find table games and slot machines mixed together. Players whooping and hollering at the tables invite fun and excitement, even if most of the casino’s players are risking their cash in the slots.

Since big winners in the slots are less frequent and slot players tend to be more stoic, the machines make maddening (I mean, exciting) noises at the drop of a hat. In fact, to give players that instant gratification on a regular basis, the machines say things like “You win,” even when returning 9 cents on a 50-line penny machine you are playing for $2.50 a spin.

While you are playing, keep in mind that you aren’t really a prisoner, although you may act like one. There are no clocks, so rely on your watch or cell phone to keep track of time before the sun rises in the east.

You should also notice that feeling in your stomach. It could be a hunger for food, not more gambling, and taking a break from the games really helps reset your internal clock and your mind. Hey, the restaurants are right there in front of you, and the slots never close!

And speaking of taking a break, make sure you exercise your right to cash out your winnings. If you are playing blackjack, roulette, or any of the other table games, you should force yourself to visit the cashier’s cage. And don’t convince yourself that you should just bet whatever chips you have on one final hand and “Go for broke” to avoid a long walk! Even $20 in chips is worth cashing in.

There’s another piece of psychology at work when you are playing a table game, and that’s the fact that players hate to be a “loser” who has to walk away from the table without any chips. That means players keep buying in, but you can avoid that. Instead of rebuying over and over, quit with a few chips and enjoy a stroll.

The cage isn’t always visible to the naked eye because it’s often so far away from where you find yourself inside the maze of slots and table games. These days, there are plenty of ATMs to get cash, but usually only one lonely cage to change those chips back into cash before you go home. Don’t let the long walk stop you. Pack a sandwich and bottled water and head there regularly, and consider leaving a trail of breadcrumbs if you must to find your way back.

The Slot Machine Maze

No matter where you walk in a casino, at some point you’ll be nearly trapped in a maze of slot machines. This too is by design.

Managers know that whether you flew for hours to get to a place like Las Vegas or live close by, the money in your pocket is burning a hole to get out. So, if the floor design takes you past rows of slot machines, there is a good chance you’ll give in and try what’s surrounding you instead of waiting until you find exactly the machine and denomination you want.

That reasoning is why you won’t usually find slot machines grouped into denominations anymore. Are there still “nickel slot” areas? A few casinos still have them, but they won’t be easy to find. The same with video poker machines. They aren’t always lumped together, just interspersed among the general populace of slot machines. You must work to find what you want.

And what about winning slot machines? Can you find them without a map?

There is a continuing myth that casinos tighten up their slot machines during the holidays to take advantage of the big crowds. Not so. The machines are computer-driven and able to win plenty every day! And you won’t necessarily find the best-paying slots on endcaps or in areas that need more traffic.

Instead, those back-alley places are now more likely to be filled with older slots, while the newest games get to be front-and-center, which allows more play and helps the Director of Slots explain why buying the latest, most expensive machines was a good move.

However, there is a trend taking place that helps the slot department direct traffic by placing the most popular slots on a path that may lead to less popular slot machines. Noisy, brightly-flashing slots are also used to drive traffic. So, choose the machines you really enjoy playing, not the ones at the end of the line.

High-denomination slot machines aren’t always in the spotlight, either, because big-money players like to be pampered. So, high-limit slot machines are often in high-limit rooms with snacks, a bar with cute cocktail runners, and casino hosts on demand.

The Ambiance

Casino goers gravitate toward what they like in the way of colors, prices, and slot and table game selection. And the music played overhead can affect your gambling. If it’s fast and thumping, you are more likely to invest more and play fast. You won’t find a casino in Las Vegas playing classical music over the sound system. Not a chance.

What you will find is music suited to the average clientele of the property. If the crowd is mostly younger, you’ll hear current music. If the crowd is older, you’ll hear ‘80s music. And you’ll play longer if you hear music you like.

So, now that you know there are some honeytraps in land-based casinos, is it possible that an online environment is better? Yes and no, and that’s up to you.

You can find the games you want quickly and easily. You can choose your bet limits without walking all around a live pit to get the game you need, and you can have a snack while you are playing on your phone, tablet, or desktop.

And those are the same reasons you need to be careful. There’s no automobile drive to the casino to enjoy the anticipation of playing, and there’s no restaurant waiting to save you from yourself for an hour while you cool off after a bad run of cards.

With an online casino, you get many more hands per hour on the table games. Unless you choose otherwise or are playing against a live dealer, the hands go very fast. You’ll reach higher peaks and crash in the valleys at twice the speed you are used to. If you get twice as many hands per hour, your gaming experience, on average, will cost you twice as much money.

For slot machines and video poker, you won’t necessarily get more spins while playing online, but there’s no drive time, walking, dining, and no social interaction. That might be all right with you, but there’s some psychology working against you.

One big factor is that in a casino, especially if you go out with friends, there’s some social interaction and some pressure to be conservative. Online, nobody sees what you buy in for or how much you are spending.

Final Thoughts to Consider

It seems obvious, but casinos exist to extract as much of your money as possible. That’s not a bad thing if you consider your time and money spent to be entertainment, but caution, in both land-based and online casinos, is always a good idea.

By design, your casino gambling should be based on having fun, not on being driven like cattle to slaughter. If you are playing live, enjoy everything the casino property offers, even the boring stuff like the pool, health club, and spa. You are paying for those amenities if you get a hotel room, might as well get your money’s worth.

If you are playing games online, don’t get sucked into your computer and lose your day (or a fortune). Change games, check out what your virtual casino offers, get your bonuses, and play smart, not frantic. Your online casino, like your live casino, never closes. Play when it’s fun and take breaks to enjoy other things!

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