Navigating the Casino Maze

From Monaco, the Las Vegas of Europe, to any modern-day cruise ship, most casinos of the world are laid out in a similar floor plan. Even at the smaller clubs, you recognize many of the same aesthetic and functional characteristics found at the megaresorts. 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.

This section takes a stroll through a typical casino to prepare you for the sights and sounds you encounter when you walk through those neon-bathed doorways. Preparation is the key for maintaining control. You’ll understand what we’re saying when you find yourself subconsciously reaching for your wallet before you finish the chapter.

Remember that 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. We suggest that, in addition to the virtual walk-through you get by reading this chapter, you do the same in every brick-and-mortar establishment you visit before you drop your first dollar on the table or pump a coin in a slot. Prepare yourself: Stand still, take a deep breath, and look around.

Getting in is the easy part

It may surprise you how fast you can find yourself in the middle of the sensory hurricane on the casino floor. In less restrictive states, such as Nevada and New Jersey, you can walk in off the street or get dropped off by a taxi 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 and do some mental stretching prior to plunging into the action. When you walk in, you often find yourself in a lobby or foyer. Remember that most casinos are also hotels, so you may see familiar sights, such as the concierge, bell desk, and check-in counter. People bustle about and crowd together before they find the destinations suited for them. While some gamblers are anticipating the excitement just steps away, others are exiting with delirious grins on their faces — or expressions of shock and awe.

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.

Interior design is to a casino floor plan what aerodynamics is to automobile manufacturers; forward movement is a result of an ever-expanding array of enticements including colors that dazzle, lights that entice, and a 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 feeding tens, twenties, or payout tickets into slot machines, hoping to reap spitting, buzzing payoffs. You operate a slot machine by pushing the buttons or yanking down on the lever to the side. 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.

If you venture farther onto the casino floor, you can see this philosophy in action. Clusters of people sit at the corner slots, sometimes two-deep as the individuals standing in line patiently await their turn to enjoy the payoffs. 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, each with a unique theme. 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 if you’re picturing a quiet setting of soft music, hushed whispers, and clinking glasses, you’re going to be disappointed. 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, so the line they walk is a delicate one, and the policy on pushing alcohol consumption may vary from place to place. In addition, every state has different laws governing alcohol consumption inside its casinos, so there is no single unifying rule about how alcohol is handled inside betting areas. Some tribal casinos don’t serve it at all, so if sipping on a stiff one as you play is important, make sure you do your homework before you leave home. The bottom line: The drinking environment varies widely, so the smartest play is to find a scene that suits your tastes, and always strive to stay in complete control.

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 redeem your slot payout ticket. (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. If the slot machines and gaming tables are the arteries that circulate a casino’s input and output, the cashier’s cage is the heart that pumps the casino’s lifeblood: money. 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.

If you’re worried about leaving with your big winnings, you can request a check or get a safety deposit box in most casinos.

In addition to the cashier’s cage, casinos usually offer a credit office. Depending on how big a player you are and the type of games you want to attack, you may want to ask for a line of credit. You can also get change, receive incoming money via a wire service, and even receive bank wire transfers (with proper ID, of course!). If you’re interested in a line of credit, where we provide all the pros and cons.


In the old days, the cashier’s cage earned its moniker because it was, as the name implies, behind bars. Today’s technology and construction make the modern cashier’s cage much more inviting, providing maximum security without looking like Fort Knox. You can usually find casino cashiers in the core of the casino layout, as far from any exit as possible, which means the casino’s money is more secure. This location also offers a beneficial side effect that casinos are happy to take advantage of. Their centrality means the cashier’s cage is often in the lion’s den of the most enticing betting areas, tempting many recent winners to recycle their bills by turning them right back into chips at a nearby table.

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