Chum in the gambling water

April 15, 2013 4:02 pm

One of the most effective gimmicks casinos use to lure in frequent gamblers is offering so-called “free play,” or gambling credits.

These are essentially gambling vouchers to get people in the door. It is the equivalent of a fisherman putting chum in the water to lure sharks. The gamblers like it because they feel special and get to play with house money. But once they burn through the voucher, most gamblers dig into their own pockets. That’s exactly what the casinos want.

This story in the Atlantic City Press details how one casino has used “free play” to dramatically boost profits. The Atlantic Club increased the amount of free play it uses to lure in gamblers to $3 million a month from $1 million. The result was a 33 percent increase in profits.

That may be good for the casino. But the end result is luring gamblers in more often and stripping more wealth from them. One Atlantic Club member said the casino gives her upt to $25 in “free play” every time she shows up. As a result, she goes to the Atlantic Club three times a week and usually on the weekends. That comes to about 200 trips to the casino a year. Talk about feeling lucky.

Slots for tots X

January 15, 2013 10:25 am

Illinois, like other states, likes to trumpet the benefits of casinos. But one of the dirty little secrets is that the casinos create social and economics costs as well. One of the more disturbing patterns that follow casinos is the number of gamblers who leave kids in cars outside casinos. 

In Illinois, adults have left 85 children unsupervised at casinos across the state over the last two and a half years, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times. In one instance, a grandmother left her four grand kids in the car while she went to gamble. The kids, ages eight months, 1, 8 and 11, were not hurt. Grandma was fined. 

There have been a number of incidents of kids left in cars outside of casinos in Pennsylvania and many other states. (This blog has done nine previous posts titled Slots for Tots detailing similar cases.) The incidents underscore the addictive nature of gambling, especially slot machines as detailed in this post. As more casinos open closer to home, more adults are making frequent visits and getting hooked. Some casinos boast that their customers visit an average of four to five times a week. As a result, more kids are getting left in cars as adults swing into the local casinos.

Casino operators and lawmakers downplay the incidents because they are too busy counting the tax revenue that casinos generate. But it is only a matter of time before a child gets injured or dies as a result of a guardian in search of a gambling fix.

Addicted to slot machines

January 14, 2013 9:23 am

Slot machines are the biggest revenue generators for casinos. Among the slot machines, the penny machines are actually the most profitable because gamblers often play the longest, losing the most over time. One reason is the new high-tech slot machines can be very addictive, as a book by M.I.T professor Natash Dow Schüll details.

Unlike the old one-armed bandits, today’s video slot machines are built for speed. Gamblers can place a bet every three seconds (or 1,200 times an hour) pushing electronic buttons and paying with credit cards rather than coins. There is essentially no break between bets, leaving little opportunity to process what has transpired.

Some machines allow gamblers to pick the moment when the reels stop spinning, giving gamblers the illusion that they are partly in control of the outcome. But in reality the slot machines contain random-number generators that pre-determine the outcome regardless of when the gambler pushes the button.

More problematic, most slot machines allow gamblers to place multi-line bets. For example, a gambler can bet on up to 20 different pay lines in a single game. If a player wins on 9 of the 20 lines, the machine gives sound and video effects as if the player won when in fact they lost most of what was wagered. These so-called false wins are misleading. The combination of the rapid play and false wins results in slot machines that are more addictive.

Professor Schüll interviewed gamblers who spoke of getting into a “zone” in which they enter a mindless state and lose all sense of control.

Addiction specialists say the near-wins and false wins can set off the same reward mechanism in the brain that is activated by actually winning a game. Jon E. Grant, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago, says many problem gamblers seeking treatment appear to be more severe than 10 or 15 years ago. The multi-line machines is one of the reasons, he said.

Lawmakers who enable casinos may or may not be aware of the changes in the gambling industry. Most either downplay or ignore the issues. But the reality is many of the gamblers in the local casinos visit an average of 3 to 5 times a week, or as much as 200 times a year. As more casinos open, lawmakers are essentially putting the addictive slot machines on the doorstep for more people, creating easier access and more addiction all in an effort to generate revenues for state coffers.

Inside job at a casino

December 28, 2012 9:08 am

Usually, casinos have the upper hand on gamblers, stacking the deck with long odds that make it difficult to beat the house over the long run.

But two Arizona gamblers came up with a creative scam that turned the tables on a casino. Unfortunately, the scam was illegal. Once caught, the gamblers were indicted.

Mark Allen Lomayestewa and Henrietta Wagner now face dozens of counts of embezzlement and theft in U.S. District Court, stemming from a scheme to boost the gambling credits on a rewards card. Rewards cards are similar to frequent flier memberships used by airlines. Casinos use rewards cards as an effective way to create loyalty and induce gamblers to keep on playing. It is also a lucrative method for casinos to track how often a customers enters the casino, how much they spend and keep them spending.

Lomayestewa worked at Casino Arizona, an Indian casino. His duties included keeping track of bets by gamblers, including the amounts they wagered and the time they spent gambling, according to court documents. Lomayestewa filed the player’s information into a database that would update the reward points for each player.

Sometime in September 2010, Lomayestewa began filing falsified data for Wagner, his onetime girlfriend, according to court documents. The monetary gains were small but added up. In 50 instances from September 2010 to July 2011, Wagner received credits totaling more than $20,000.

Casinos and crime

November 26, 2012 9:20 am

It’s bad enough the odds are so stacked at casinos that most gamblers leave with less money than when they arrived. But casinos are also a favorite target for robbers.

An Easton man attempted to rob a woman playing a slot machine at 2:30 a.m. the other day in the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, threatening to show her his pistol if she didn’t hand over some cash, according to state police. He was later arrested. The incident is just the latest in a steady string of crimes at local casinos.

* An armed robber held up a casino in South Dakota earlier this month, escaping with an unknown amount of money.

* A man attempted to rob a gambler in a bathroom in a Nevada casino earlier this month.

* Two men known as the “Jet Ski Bandits” pleaded guilty to armed robbery this month in relation to a casino robbery in Louisiana. 

* Another man was arrested this month after choking and robbing a gambler inside a bathroom in a casino in Louisiana. 

* A couple in their 80s were robbed, and the woman was injured, after leaving a casino outside of Chicago last month.

* A man pleaded guilty last month to robbing a South Dakota casino because he was broke and needed to pay his rent.

* Four man fired shots inside a San Diego casino last month in a daring robbery attempt that was aborted. No one was hurt.

* A robbery ring has targeted at least a half dozen gamblers at the SugarHouse casino in Philadelphia, stealing thousands of dollars after following them home. The robbers have used a taser on victims, including a pregnant woman. See video here.

This is an incomplete list of recent crimes in casinos. The list goes on. In fact, there are always a couple crimes a month in casinos. The anecdotal data backs up independent studies that show crime increases in areas where casinos open. Of course, elected officials and casino operators ignore or down play the increase in crime, which is just one of many social and economic ills that come with casinos.

Elected officials are supposed to protect citizens. But enabling casinos only puts gamblers at risk. The increase in crime is something all taxpayers pay for whether they gamble or not. That is all the more reason why casinos are a bad public policy for states looking to close budget gaps.

Sandy still battering AC casinos

November 8, 2012 11:22 am

More than a week after Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, the casinos in Atlantic City are still suffering from the storm’s aftermath.

Gov. Christie ordered the casinos closed before the storm hit. Once the storm passed, the casinos were quick to reopen. But many of the gamblers have yet to return, The Inquirer reports.

A large chunk of Atlantic City’s gamblers come from North Jersey and New York – two areas hardest hit by the storm. As such, the casinos are largely empty. Moody’s issued a bleak report for the Atlantic City casinos in the short-term: “We expect Atlantic City revenues to be down 25 percent both this quarter and next,” Moody’s said. “Earnings could decline 40 percent to 50 percent in both quarters. Gaming operators with just one property in Atlantic City, such as Revel Entertainment Group L.L.C. [owner of Revel] and Marina District Finance Co. [owner of Borgata], are most at risk.”

Gamblers caught cheating

July 6, 2012 10:32 am

It didn’t long before gamblers in Ohio figured out how to cheat the casinos. Seven people were charged with cheating on games including blackjack, roulette and craps at the Horseshoe casino in Cleveland.

The casino opened in May and is the first of four casinos in Ohio. Eight people were also charged with cheating at a casino in Toledo. The cheating incidents show how desperate gamblers can become to win a few bucks. It also shows how gamblers know the odds are stacked against them, so they must look for ways to get an edge.

The state is bracing for an increase in problem gamblers brought on by the access and proximity of the Ohio casinos. One study found that casinos in Ohio would increase the number of problem gamblers in the state by more than 100,000. A government policy that creates addiction is clearly at odds with the government’s main role of protecting its citizens.

In the cheating scandal, one gambler was caught on video placing bets after the outcome of a roulette game became known. Another man allegedly added chips to his bet after the cards were dealt. A third man allegedly distracted the blackjack dealer by talking loudly and pointing to another player while adding to his bet, according to officials.

Beach blanket bingo (and slots)

June 29, 2012 10:47 am

For everyone who can’t make it to the Jersey Shore for the July 4 holiday, the SugarHouse casino is throwing a beach party behind its slots joint on Delaware Avenue.

So instead of slots gamblers leaving kids locked in the car, they can leave them on the bank of the Delaware River in beautiful Fishtown. Who needs Atlantic City when gamblers can have sand and waterfront views of Camden and tanker ships going up the Delaware? (Just beware of the armed robbers.)

What a great way to celebrate the birth of the country, just a short ride from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Maybe not. Read some of these reviews here from SugarHouse customers to get a sense of how scuzzy this casino is. Not to mention, leaving kids in cars is now illegal. SugarHouse can truck in sand, but a business dedicated to stripping wealthy from residents remains a net negative.