5 Creepy Things Casino Security Guards See
From watching movies, you'd swear that casinos are arenas in which savants win big, then battle security thugs before running off with the nearest call girl. Go to a casino yourself for an evening, and you'll find it to be pretty harmless -- the money that people lose to the slots is a fee they paid for the momentary thrill, right? Ultimately, the product casinos are selling is hope, even if it's false hope.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. If you spend years watching everything that happens in the casino day after day, you'll see what hives of scum and misery the places can be, even if they're not run by the mafia these days. We talked to "Dylan" and "Tanya," two full-time casino security experts. They told us that ...
The Goal Of A Casino Is To Make Time Stop
Dylan has seen compulsive gamblers occupy the craps table for 28 hours straight. Over at the slot machines, security will prod awake sleeping gamblers (so no one robs them, and because sleeping patrons mean lost revenue), who then immediately return to playing. People soil themselves -- he says one particular woman regularly enters and sits until someone spots her newly soggy crotch and escorts her out, and he's seen a couple of different patrons shake turds out their pant legs to keep playing without pause. And when the fire alarm goes off? The slot players keep pulling. And even with the alarm blaring and the dealers leaving, the table players stay put, wanting to keep their spot.
This is all by design.
"Damn those greedy sleep urine poop fire fetishists!"
See, there is a reason casinos play looping, nondescript music instead of songs: Song changes would mean time's passing, and then when a song finally repeats, you'd know hours must have passed and maybe break yourself out of that trance. Casinos have no windows; windows show the sun moving. Casinos have no clocks. Phones are forbidden at the table, and that's not just to keep you from cheating or snapping photos -- it keeps you from checking the time, since most people don't wear watches nowadays. The goal is to suspend you in a timeless void in which there is only the next hand or the next spin at the roulette wheel forever.
Get up to take a walk around, and you'll find the casino layout is a maze. Search for the exit, and twisted hallways send you right back to where you started, or to a different casino floor. Casinos give out "player cards," which you swipe at machines and tables; most people think they're merely loyalty programs, but the casinos also use them to track your activity and then map out everyone's preferences over time. For example, one casino's cards mapped out a giant shift in women from one side of the casino to the other at the same time every day. So they moved machines around to capitalize on this and ended up squeezing a whole new chunk of money out of the lady customers.
As illustrated in the Predator-vision map above. We don't understand it, but they do.
Neither source's casino has any policy of telling people to take breaks or to go home after a long stretch or huge loss. But our second source, Tanya (who runs surveillance at a tribal casino in Washington) says her joint does let addicts "self-bar." They sign an agreement blocking themselves from the casino, so they'll be cited for trespassing if they return. One signer came back so many times that Tanya, honoring their agreement, had him arrested. "The sad part is he'll be back when he gets out," she says. "And he'll get arrested again. It's amazing, because there are other casinos he could go to."
Speaking of which ...
There Is Some Truly Sad Crime Taking Place
Contrary to the belief of many hopeful patrons, prostitution isn't automatically legal in casinos (hell, it isn't even legal in Vegas). But the places have a demand and supply of paid sex, leading the surveillance team to play gleeful games of Spot the Hooker. "A young woman comes in in a short skirt all by herself in the dead of winter with high heels on," says Dylan. "Yeah, probably a prostitute." Then, after a few game-free hours, she leaves with some arthritic old man. "She is now a confirmed prostitute." One point for Dylan.
And two points for Arthritic Old Man.
Casino security doesn't intervene. This is entertainment for them, much like spying on elevator sex or watching drunken patrons hump walls. The exception is when a sex worker and her client fail to leave the premises before completing the transaction. If they linger in the john's car in the casino lot, Dylan has to wait until the camera catches a sex act in progress, and then he sends in the guards. Arthritic Old Man, cruelly, will often not pull up his pants before leaving the vehicle. "Some things," says poor Dylan, "can't be unseen."
We mentioned that Tanya is at a tribal casino in Washington. Weed is illegal on the reservation even though it's legal in the state, to the surprise and disappointment of many a guest. Meth is also illegal on the reservation, to the surprise of no guests at all, but tweekers still come in droves. Casino machines issue penny tickets -- low-value vouchers that you can play with or cash in -- and tweekers crawl on the floor searching for ones players might have dropped. "We discourage it because it's a step away from panhandling, which makes our customers uneasy." says Tanya.
Their twitching and crying on the carpet, however, makes the customers feel right at home.
Tweekers also steal, which is a step past panhandling by most counts. These addicts look for wallets and purses players leave out in the open -- Dylan says players do this all the time, stupidly assuming that the hidden cameras will protect them. The addicts rifle through the purses in the bathroom, and they don't fear getting caught on the way there. That's because of another weird kink in the law: It's okay to pick up a purse (you might have meant to return it) until someone sees you take money from it. Tanya repeatedly finds discarded purses in the bathroom, along with needles, foil, and other assorted drug swag.
If it sounds like the casinos are full of sad and broken people, well ...
Casinos Target The Vulnerable
Tanya's casino is one of two located close to a local military base (hers is the less sketchy one, she proudly notes, because it had zero parking lot murders in the last couple of weeks). And the soldiers there gladly hemorrhage away their paychecks at the nearest money sink. "That's why barracks bunnies exist," says Tanya, "and why there was once legislation proposed to ban payday loan places from being too close to military bases." The casino readily exploits this particular market; these are 19-year-old kids often getting their first paychecks, with nothing else to spend it on.
"Where do I bet on the 401K number I always hear adults talk about?"
Another target is retirees, and Tanya would feel sorry for them ... if they didn't complain so much about everything. Geriatrics pissing away money at the slots is an accurate cliche, and it's not an incidental part of the casino (who'd perhaps rather attract high-rollers). Instead, the casinos actively seek out the elderly with senior discounts for side stuff like the buffet. And don't despair, enlisted folk -- there's a nice buffet military discount waiting for you, too.
The buffet is of course designed to run at a loss, knowing that your expected gambling losses far exceed what the buffet costs to run. This is why the casinos readily give free food vouchers once you've been on the floor for a while, just to keep you from leaving. People come for the buffet and stay for the baccarat, and if you're planning on screwing the casino over by nabbing cheap food then leaving, well, you'd better have more self-control than the seniors and soldiers Tanya sees.
"With THAT kind of money, I could buy two buffets!"
The only way to truly beat the house is to either stay away completely or cheat. And in fact ...
Cheating Is Common And Usually Laughably Simple
Pop culture loves stories of ingenious schemes to cheat casinos involving teams of slick operators and at least one autistic genius. In real life, most cheating schemes are something a child could have come up with. And they work!
When you fall asleep randomly and pee yourself, a child's plan is all you can hope for.
For example, the only way to beat roulette is to steal money when no one's looking, according to, let's say, Einstein. So a few years ago, Dylan got kind of suspicious when roulette players at his casino actually seemed to be winning. It turned out that the place was being hit by a 60-member organized cheating ring, as he finally figured out after an investigation and four arrests.
The method was almost disappointing: All that happened was that on the roulette table, his casino's chips weren't marked with the dollar amount. So a player would buy these "non-value chips" for $1 each, then slip them to an accomplice with his own pile of $5 chips, who cashed them all out at the higher value. Believe it or not, the thieves made off with $1,000-$2,000 every night doing this until Dylan's security team caught on to it.
The house always wins.
And that's how most cheaters work. In table games like blackjack, they aren't using sophisticated strategies or mystical math; they're simply shuffling chips on the table when they're not supposed to. They place bets once they know the hand's outcome (a trick called "past posting") or they belatedly increase the bet ("capping") or reduce it ("pinching"). The camera will see them, but they hope the person monitoring it won't.
Other times, it's a matter of convincing the dealer to go in on it with you, at which point they will start overpaying on winning hands or paying players even when they lose ("dumping"). "We're more wary of our employees than our patrons," says Dylan, "since they're closer to the money." Dealers have to wear company-issued clothes with no pockets to deter the most obvious sort of theft. And their aprons must cover their waistline, lest they try hiding their chips somewhere more intimate.
They were going to use chastity belts, but they were too noisy.
The other kinds of cheating you see in movies (everything from card counting to bringing a goddamn mirror or prism to steal glances at the dealer's cards) aren't illegal at all -- and are only sometimes against the casino's rules. The worst thing that can happen is them asking you to leave, and maybe notifying other casinos. You can usually even keep the money you won, depending on whether you crossed the line between "cleverly gaining an advantage" and "outright theft."
People Die There
Dylan has dealt with two corpses. One was a man who left the bathroom on the way back to the table and then collapsed, the other a slot machine player who slumped over and fell out of his chair. Of course, people can die anywhere, but in most places, it causes kind of a stir. At the casino, the other patrons went on walking around or over the bodies on the way to the next game. "Whether or not they realized he was dead, I don't know," says Dylan. "If they did, they wouldn't act any differently. Because acting differently changes your luck. Everyone knows that."
"Stop that CPR shit; I'm on a five-roll streak since he stopped breathing."
The autopsies said "stroke" and "heart attack," and not "death by keno" or "shot by a one-armed bandit," so the casino might not feel too guilty about those incidents. Other deaths are a little more directly connected with gambling. Patrons often talk to dealers about killing themselves, usually after losing next month's rent betting on red. The casino responds, because while they do little to deter excessive gambling (hell, they do plenty to encourage it), there's a limit to their indifference. Plus, there's a real chance that the gambler will try committing suicide on the property itself, which is bad for business.
"Just before I started," says Tanya, "a guy jumped from the top of the parking garage. He drove in, went straight to the top, and jumped headfirst. Died instantly. One of my old bosses told me it didn't really hit him until he found brain matter on his shoe later." Dylan's casino had a failed suicide attempt -- a gambler got out onto the ledge of their parking garage before being pulled back and later getting taken to the hospital.
He saw the other patients' bills, and suddenly his gambling losses seemed like no big deal.
When dealers at Dylan's casino hear gamblers talk of offing themselves, they call the police, who send a trained person to talk them down. Tanya has had to wind up talking down suicidal customers herself; once, she had a long talk and a cry with a woman whose gambling losses topped off a whole string of problems, from abusive relationships to her husband leaving her for a teenager. That woman still comes to gamble now and again, which, believe it or not, led her to find a new boyfriend: one of the house's manic resident tweekers. So see, it's totally possible to leave the casino a winner!
Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for stuff cut from articles and other things no one should see.
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