Walking into a casino is a visceral experience. Hundreds of people line the slot machines and gaming tables. Scantily clad cocktail waitresses parade around carrying trays of free drinks. The bells and whistles of the slot machines dominate the room with losing spins buried beneath the sounds of the vociferous payout routines of the lucky few.
The facade of success is a key weapon of the casinos in making sure that when people start gambling, they do not soon stop.
"Casinos try and ply their patrons with the idea of good luck," said Frank Scoblete, a well-known gaming writer. "Above the urinals at Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City they would have photos of previous winners holding giant checks so there would be no escaping the pretense that everyone's a winner."
Which of course they are not. Casinos thrive because the house generally wins. In games like poker, generally it does not matter how good the table of players is as the casino always takes a cut of the pot. Think of it as a rent for using the table.
A key weapon of the casinos is the comp card system, casino-specific credit cards that tot up an individual's gambling totals and reward in the style of frequent flyer miles — the more money a person gambles, the more freebies the casino gives them.
"It's one of the most brilliant ways to keep you at a particular casino," regular craps player Joey Farrales told ABC News. "When I go to certain casinos they have me on file and I'm treated to complimentary meals, tickets to shows and sometimes a free room."
These perks help ensure people stay in the vicinity of casinos where the temptation to gamble remains. The more people spend, the more comps they get. Players are divided on casino databases from low-level players, who spend say $5 each time they bet, to midlevel players who average say $250, up to high rollers who spend thousands on each bet.
"Each group looks up to the group above them as something special as, the higher you are ranked, the more freebies you get," Scoblete said."The thing is that it's all an illusion as the greater power you have, the more money you're often losing. The players know this, but it's almost like a drug the casinos are feeding them."
The excitement and adrenaline created by the prospects of winning big blends with the time warp illusion of casinos that never sleep. Scoblete told the story of a lady at the Golden Nugget casino who asked what day it was. "When I told her it was April 2, she asked me where April 1 had gone."
Alcohol also plays its part. Gaming regulations prohibit casinos from supplying clearly intoxicated people with alcohol, but most people are still able to have a steady supply of fresh cocktails brought to them throughout the night.
"The waitresses certainly ply us guys with drink," said Farrales. "As I'm playing though, I ask myself if I feel in the right frame of mind. If I'm too drunk then I'll decide on just one or two more rounds [of cards] and then walk away."
Gaming authorities told ABC News, they take the drinking issue seriously, and insist that instances of people complaining that they were so intoxicated that they felt taken advantage of by the casino are rare.
But it is not at the cards tables that casinos make the majority of their money — it's at the slots. Experts say that the percentage of profits from slot machines varies from casino to casino but ranges between 10 percent and 30 percent, depending on the state.