Confessions of...a Casino Pit Boss

Our anonymous author, a longtime dealer and pit boss, tells all: 'Twenty minutes later, they're back at the ATM.'

Dealers pay you in chips, hoping you'll burn right through them (illustration by Christoph Niemann)

Our anonymous author lives in Nevada and has worked as a dealer and pit boss for most of his adult life. This is excerpted from his new book, Casino Confidential (Quirk Books).

The house edge
No matter what game you're talking about--blackjack, craps, Elvis Presley slot machines--the odds are always in the casino's favor. This advantage is called the house edge and ensures that the casinos stay in business. They aren't cheating; they'll lose their license if they rip you off. But there are plenty of legal ways they can get you to stop paying attention to your bet.

Skip the free vodka
If you're serious about gambling, don't drink while you do it. Alcohol is a casino's best friend: It makes you do things no sane, rational person would ever think of doing, like betting your entire paycheck on red 22--again! In gambling jargon, a fish is an easy mark, and there's a reason casinos try to make you drink like one. Also, be wary if a casino starts offering you other freebies, especially after you've won a lot. The casino owners are going to do whatever they can to keep you there so they can win their money back. Want a complimentary dinner for two? A hotel room? Perhaps a free bottle of bubbly? No problem. They want you to think to yourself, Wow, these guys are great! I don't want to leave just yet.

Time stands still
Casinos spend millions studying psychology and what motivates us to take risks. That's why you see so much red, especially on slot machines--red supposedly attracts players and gets them to think of victory. Casinos have also experimented with different scents--a kind of gamblers' aroma­therapy. Should you forget to wear a watch, good luck finding out what time it is. The only clocks in casinos are on the employees' time cards. Casinos want you to lose track of time; that's why windows are so rare. It could be 5 in the morning or 5 in the afternoon, but inside a casino it's always forget-your-troubles time.

Chips vs. cash
The inventor of chips was a genius. Plopping down a stack of $100 chips isn't nearly as painful as putting down a wad of $100 bills. When you win a small jackpot at the tables, dealers automatically pay you in chips, hoping you'll burn right through them without a second thought. Have you ever noticed there are a dozen places in a casino to buy chips but only one place where you can cash them in? Cash goes straight into your pocket, and the casino owners know they might never see it again.

Know the rules
I'll never forget the loser who ran up to one of my tables, lost $100, and then asked me, "What's the name of this game again?" Trying to keep from laughing, I replied, "Uh, roulette." If you want to win money at the casino, you absolutely need to know the games you're playing. The other mistake 9 out of 10 players make is overestimating their budget. I don't care if you're playing blackjack, Texas hold 'em, or craps, you shouldn't step inside the casino unless you have 100 times your smallest bet. If you only have $100, you should play the $1 tables. I see people sit down at a $10 table and buy in for $100 all the time. Twenty minutes later, they're all out of cash and back at the ATM.

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