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Pumping Oxygen into a casino is NOT a trick of the trade

26 February 1999

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark,
My friend believes that many of the Vegas casinos pump oxygen through the air conditioning system to enrich the air. The purpose is to keep you from sleeping as long and therefore gambling more. I didn't notice any difference in my sleeping habits, but still, my friend insists he's right. Is he? Colin I.

Colin, your friend is full of, of, of, OK, I'll be nice, baloney. What comes to mind every time I hear this rumor are the three Apollo astronauts who died when a small spark combined with oxygen ignited their space capsule creating one of NASA's worst disasters.

According to my neighbor Dick (Captain, South San Francisco Fire Department), "pumping oxygen into a casino would be a tremendous fire hazard that would greatly increase the flammability of all other objects. Any small fire, anywhere in the hotel, would be fanned and magnify itself by pumped oxygen." As for the risk/reward opportunity, no casino would ever entertain the thought.

Of course that doesn't mean the casino doesn't have its share of tricks to part bettors from their cash. Casinos spend tens of thousands of dollars each year studying whether scents, interior design (yes, even that gaudy carpeting) or trying to keep light off the foreheads of customers-which is draining on them from an energy standpoint-will make players stay and play more. If somehow a casino could figure out how to keep each and every patron playing just five more minutes a night, it would add millions to a casino's gross each year.

Now back to this ridiculous rumor of pumping oxygen, Colin. It does have a starting point. I believe ground zero comes from Mario Puzo's book, Fools Die, where the practice of pumping oxygen was written by Puzo regarding the mythical Las Vegas casino Xanadu. I guess your friend translated this fictional work into reality, but hey, Colin, maybe casinos one day will try decreasing the oxygen to disorient the players even more than they already are.

Dear Mark,
What is the most popular slot machine in the casino? Tara C.

The bulk of the lucrative slot business has been the exclusive territory of one manufacturer, International Game Technology (IGT). Their bread-and-butter comes from the most popular machine in America: the Red, White and Blue reel slot. And what makes the Red, White and Blue so popular? Player appeal.

People flock to the colors that represent America. Players also love the paytable that offers plenty of low and midrange hits with enough high-end hits to keep them coming back for more.

Note here, Tara, that the above description of "hit rewards" comes from IGT company literature, not me. Because most slots typically have a casino advantage well above my recommended two percent, avoid putting those Red, White and Blue machines in your playing arsenal.

Dear Mark,
In my favorite casino, the Caribbean Stud progressive tote is at $55,200 for a royal flush. How good a wager, and when is it mathematically in my favor? Jimbo M.

Sorry, Jimbo, I can't recommend this wager to anyone. First, note there are 2,598,960 possible poker hands using a standard 52-card deck. Now divide that figure by four (the different suits) and you'll come up with 649,740. Because you don't get to draw any cards in Caribbean Stud, this mathematically is the odds of hitting a royal. Jimbo, one in 649,740 is too big a differential from the $55,200 they plan on paying you for me to endorse this play.

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.