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Navigating the Casino Maze

From Monaco to Vegas to the local riverboats, most casinos of the world are laid out similarly. This common design is no accident — casino owners have an intimate knowledge of the gambler's mind, and they design the interiors to make their guests comfortable with parting with their cash.

Gambling is the ultimate impulse buy. The casino's layout encourages this impulse. Taking away the mystique is your first step toward improving your odds and coming out a winner. With every casino visit, before you drop your first dollar on the table, stand still, take a deep breath, and look around.

Getting in is the easy part

In Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you can walk in off the street and find yourself a few feet away from the gaming areas. You're practically holding the door for your significant other with one hand and rolling the dice with the other. After all, casinos want as little as possible to stand between you and your favorite game.

But most casinos give you a chance to catch your breath prior to plunging into the action. When you walk in, you often find yourself in a lobby. Most casinos are also hotels, so you may see familiar sights, such as the check-in counter. People bustle about and crowd together and this bottleneck is no accident; it's part of the calculated marketing strategy to lure you ever closer to the games. At the threshold of the gaming floor, the sounds, colorful lights, and crowd energy all go to work on your senses, even from a distance. Just like an infant reaching for bright colorful objects, casino visitors gravitate to the sights and sounds of the casino floor.

Even the temperature scientifically controlled for maximum comfort. You quickly find that every destination in a casino — the guest elevators, the bathrooms, or the buffet — requires that you walk through (or dangerously near) the gaming areas.

Slot machines and video poker stations are positioned just inside the casino entrance. The boys in marketing put them here so you can test the waters and feel the rush a quarter at a time — getting your feet wet right at the casino entrance. Up ahead you see the casino proper, a virtual indoor carnival buzzing with excitement. You can almost feel the energy pulsing.

Slot machines: Place them and they will come

As you enter the casino proper, you see hopeful gamblers, often two-deep, standing in line, patiently waiting their turn to reap the spitting, buzzing payoffs from the slot machines. Larger casinos hold aisle after aisle of slots, like rows of corn.

Casinos typically place the most profitable slot machines within easy access to the main traffic aisles, such as the foyer, restaurants, and bars, and are extremely careful to place high-hit frequency slots within earshot of the thronging masses.

As you venture down the aisles of slots, you may find a few open machines, but not many. As one row ends, another aisle begins. Some of the most popular machines are Double Diamond and Wheel of Fortune.

Table games: Penetrating the inner circle

Just as the sun is the center of the solar system, the table games rest in the middle of the casino system, attracting visitors ever inward and at the same time providing the main source of energy and vitality to the floor. Table games are grouped together into areas known in casino lingo as pits. The pits are separated from slot machines, restaurants, and other casino functions by a wide aisle, allowing nonplayers to watch the action and vicariously enjoy the thrill of turning over the winning card or nailing the winning roll.

Table games you can play include

  • Baccarat: The classic card game is often played in a separate room to create a more civilized and secluded atmosphere.
  • Blackjack: Determine your own fate with smart decisions and timely double downs.
  • Craps: Roll the dice and hear the crowd roar in the most boisterous game on the floor.
  • Poker: It's just like your neighborhood game, except you never have to shuffle.
  • Roulette: Pick a number, place your bet, and then watch the spinning wheel go round and round.

If you're a high roller, the most exclusive gaming tables with the highest betting limits are often in adjoining rooms, separated by glass from the other tables. They feature fancy amenities, such as private cocktail servers or a bar.

But most table games are designed for moderate bettors. The loud, boisterous call of a lively crowd gathered around the craps table can seem like a siren song to players tempted to leave the boredom and repetition of the slots, and that's no accident. The intimate nature of the poker table beckons would-be strategists, while the smoky haze surrounding a blackjack game cries out to the novice with its lack of intimidation.

The bar: Quiet escape — or not?

Most casinos have a bar that's central to the main action. A large casino may offer numerous bars interspersed throughout the floor. Some feature live music, and some are simply service bars where you can take a quick pit stop away from the flow of traffic. But don't picture a quiet setting of soft music, hushed whispers, and clinking glasses. There's no escaping the games: Casino bars are in the midst of the lively pits.

Casinos profit from the fact that alcohol lubricates the ATM card. But no casino wants drunk patrons, and the policy on pushing alcohol consumption varies from place to place. Some tribal casinos don't serve it at all.

If you don't feel like leaving your table to head to the bar, most casinos have servers who take drink orders. You can pay and tip them with chips from the casino or cash. However, if you want to eat, most casinos don't allow eating at the table. You need to visit one of the many restaurants to chow down.

Cashing out: Heading to the cashier's cage

The cashier's cage is where you redeem your markers — the chips the casino uses to represent cash — for hard cash and where you buy and redeem your slot tokens. (You must buy your chips at the tables, and you must cash out at the cashier's cage.)

Every casino has cashier's cages — the larger the casino, the more cages you find. Highly trained and supremely trusted casino employees handle more cash each shift than most people see in a lifetime.

Cashier's cages are easy to find. Casinos typically locate them along the sides of the rooms to allow the more valuable floor space for games. Here, much like at a bank, one or more tellers deal with the public through a window.

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