Anatomy of a Vegas casino

Jul 3, 2001 1:02 AM

At virtually every Las Vegas resort, the casino is the hotel’s focal point. Oftentimes you can’t even reach the front desk without passing through the casino, which gives first-time visitors the impression they’ve landed in the middle of a prison riot. But, believe it or not, there’s method to the madness taking place around you. Here’s a quick tour of what to look for in a Las Vegas casino, how to get around and how to get the most out of it.

First of all, you must be at least 21 years old to gamble in Las Vegas. Any underage person gambling or loitering in a casino will be asked to leave and, more importantly, if he or she wins a jackpot the casino won’t pay it!

Even if you’re not a big-time gambler, you should know about the main cashier, which is also called the main cage by casino personnel. If your luck is good, you’ll spend a lot of time here, redeeming chips, coins and tokens for cash. You can also establish credit, cash checks and purchase coins or tokens for play in slot machines. The cage, however, won’t sell you chips, which you must purchase from the dealers when you buy in at the various tables.

In addition to the main cage, most casinos have satellite cashiers or change booths where you can purchase coins for play in slot machines or redeem your overflowing buckets of quarters for cash.

Every casino in Las Vegas is required to have an electronic surveillance system commonly called the eye in the sky, which monitors and records activity in the casino. The video cams are connected to VCRs that tape every game and slot machine in the house. The tape recordings are used as a check against cheats, thieves and dishonest employees. They are also used to investigate complaints from customers and settle disputes between players.

Virtually every casino has a slot club, which awards its members freebies, including cash, for a required amount of play. Ordinarily, slot club members accumulate points while playing, and then redeem their points for cash, room discounts, merchandise, meals or other benefits.

The same principle of accumulating points at the machines is often available to players at the table games. What was once offered only to so-called high rollers is now available to average gamblers. In fact many slot clubs allow their members to simply present their cards at the blackjack or craps table in order to accumulate points.

Most casinos have hosts and hostesses or a promotions desk. The hosts are like floating concierges who cater to the wishes of the casino players and promote the casino’s programs. These can include play for points, contests and special events. The hosts and hostesses also serve as representatives for the casino’s slot clubs. If there are no hosts and hostesses on the casino floor, you can check in at the promotions booth and find out about the slot club and other programs.

Don’t expect to see any clocks in the casino. The hotel executives want their customers for the duration, so clocks are never part of the decor. The same is true for windows: You won’t glimpse a sunset through a plate-glass window because the casinos want time to stand still during the gambling experience.

The casino bosses even went so far several years ago to try out a type of perfume that was supposed to make the gambling experience so pleasant you wouldn’t want to leave your seat at the roulette wheel. But saner heads prevailed, if not the Food and Drug Administration, and the system was scrapped.