Think of a fun place to be: free drinks and snacks, attractive and flirty personnel, bright lights, and a sense of luxury… Guess what? You ended up in a casino! Speaking of the devil, everybody knows that casinos make you spend more than you are intended to. The mystery is: how do they do it? Let me explain this through behavioral economics!
Grocery stores are designed as confusing and continuously changing mazes. This way, while you wander around searching for vegetables, detergent, and dairy, you get to pass through snacks, confections, and bakeries. This trick is used to make people buy those things they can’t resist.
A similar architectural design was once the norm for Las Vegas casinos. You would have had to walk in a corridor full of slot machines before accessing the game area. However, this strategy had a cost: most of the time, players felt trapped and did not spend much time in the casino.
Casino designer Rogger Thomas challenged this conventional design and created the “adult-playground layout”. In the new floorplan, the casino is designed as a playground with catchy games all around. This way, players feel less overwhelmed. As Thomas reports, “They [players] take on the characteristics of the room.” If the interior design is luxurious with silk layers, marble walls, and gold colors, people get encouraged to lavish money on!
The second trick that casinos use is maybe even more dangerous and mind-twisting: they disguise losses as winnings (shortly, LDWs, losses disguised as wins!). LDWs convince you that you are winning even when this is not the case. Especially for slot machines, a victorious cash sound is played after each small win. As players do not usually have much time to make decisions, their brains interpret the sound played as a winning signal. Imagine the following scenario: you bet 5 euros and receive a 1 euro payout. The machine though will still play a lucrative cash sound. At this point, you are not recognizing your 4 euros loss; instead, your brain is telling you that you won! Indeed, the anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, writer of “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas” comments on research performed by Waterloo University on the matter: “The laboratory research on LDWs shows that people experience this in their brains in an identical way as a win.”
Making time pass by is another sly strategy employed by casinos. In the gambling halls, there is no room for windows or clocks. You can obviously check your phone, but casinos are not making your work easier on keeping track of time! On top of this, a study reveals that the combination of lights and sound effects can cause people to play faster. Gamblers can even fall into a trance-like state, where they totally forget about their surroundings and time.
Another behavioral strategy that casinos use is separating the concept of money from that of chips/tickets. Money bills or credit cards are deeply associated with our daily operations. We have a much greater sense of their value. With chips, this effect is less persuasive. Indeed, it has been found that using tickets to bet creates the weakest correlation to spending money in our minds.
Furthermore, it is common knowledge that casinos serve free drinks not only to make you feel exclusive but also to harm your decision abilities. People tend to lose more money as they consume more alcohol due to weakened inhibitions.
Recently, casinos created more interactive games with the hope of attracting younger gamblers who are less willing to bet on pure chance. For instance, some skill-based casino games have been introduced in the last couple of years. However, even before then, rolling the dice or playing “strategy” games were tricks used to make players feel more in control of the odds.
Before concluding, what I found to be the craziest trick is layering out garish carpets! The idea behind this is that by not looking down, players focus more on the game and spend more money. This is why casino floors are decorated with the most outdated, mundane carpets!
Now you know more about tricks used by casinos, if you ever were to step in a casino, slowly put down that cocktail, give one more chance to the carpets, and do not let the LDWs fool you. Don’t forget, the house always wins. If you are lucky, you won’t lose that much!