Exclusive Content   Join Now

Anatomy of a casino

Sep 7, 2004 3:13 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 often has all the subtlety of a prison riot. But, believe it or not, there’s method to the madness. Here’s a quick tour of how to get around and how to get the most out of the casino.

First of all, you must be at least 21 years old to gamble in Las Vegas. Any underage person caught 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! Be sure to have valid identification when gambling because casinos are carding players more frequently than ever before.

You’ll also need your I.D. if you hit a substantial slot jackpot. The IRS requires a W2G form to be filled out on all jackpots of $1,200 or more, so the casino will ask you for two forms of identification, usually a driver’s license and Social Security card. Nonresident aliens are subject to a withholding tax of 30 percent to be deducted from the jackpot before payment.

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 there, 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 other satellite cashiers or change booths where you can purchase coins for play in slot machines or redeem ticket vouchers from slot machines so equipped with printers or your overflowing buckets of quarters.

To keep the machines humming, "change persons" circulate throughout the casino making change or breaking bills for customers.

A recent addition to many casinos is the ticket redemption machine. This device accepts tickets (from ticket-in, ticket-out slot machines) and redeems them for cash, and paper money, which it will break into either smaller bills or coins. Some machines also take coins and pay paper money.

Nearly 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, complimentaries, room discounts, merchandise or other benefits.

The slot club tracks its members’ play with a plastic card, which must be inserted into the machine before you begin play. There’s no cost to join a slot club, and many players sign up at several casinos.

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.

You can expect to find automated teller machines (ATMs) for Plus, Cirrus or Instant-Teller networks throughout most casinos. The In Casino Cash and ATM systems are part of the Instant Teller, Star, Plus and Inn systems. These also accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express for a $1 to $2 service charge.

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.