Gambling happens in every culture, between friends, businesses and everywhere else. The enterprise of gambling is by nature, risky, exciting, and potentially profitable. Of course it’s also subject to mathematical chance. Casinos, however, need to be profitable in order to continue offering gambling services to their patrons. That said, they invest heavily in creating a physical environment that lends itself to providing the best possible casino gambling experience.
The modern casino experience is wrapped up so tightly around the “James Bond” ethos, glamour, high stakes, and generally, class, that it’s hard to remember its more pedestrian roots. So when you imagine entering a casino you probably imagine evening gowns, tense games of baccarat where you can hear a pin drop, and the sort of excitement you can’t talk about afterwards. This image of course is radically, but not always subconsciously, dispelled the moment one spends any actual time in there.
The casino business is exactly that, a business, and it’s also ultra-competitive. That means every square inch of the casino building and every possible controllable aspect of the ambiance, is considered, then engineered to keep you there longer. It’s nothing short of hypnotism, and it’s controlled by three major factors. In 2003, Mark Griffiths and Jonathan Parke published a landmark study in the UK called “The Environmental psychology of gambling” that talked about a whole slew of factors and their potential effects on a gambler’s tendencies. Though the study itself relied on less-than-imperial evidence, the fallout from the study was a paradigm shift for design, and if you’ve visited a casino anywhere in the last decade, you’ve felt its impact.
Further studies followed up since, by the original authors and others, but the major physical influencers can be broken down into three categories.
When you enter a modern casino floor anywhere across the world, the first thing that strikes you is the noise. The clanging bells and electronic alarms of hundreds of slot machines that circle the card tables, it’s the same design in every modern casino, and its purpose is two-fold.
The slot machine is far and away the most popular game on the casino floor. They are impossibly simple to operate, so there’s no intimidation factor, but more to the point, they are loud. Hundreds of slot machines all operating on their own rhythm creates a cacophony of sound that makes it measurably more difficult to make dispassionate decisions. Moreover , the constant noise gives the illusion of an increased win rate, as well as making actual wins feel more substantial (imagine a compelling soundtrack in a movie soliciting a more dramatic emotional response from the audience).
On top of that the casino adds another aural layer to the mix with pervasive music playing throughout the PA system. The style and volume level varies directly alongside to patron demographics (primarily dependant on age) but the music is always known to “heighten emotional states, although the complexities of the relationship between the two are still unclear”. (Griffiths, M.D. 2009)
The Bellagio in Las Vegas introduced, by way of its creator Steve Wynn, a measure of “fancy” to their casino experience that set the new gold standard for style, architecture, and impressiveness.
It was a $1.6 billion gamble in 1998, and the “spare no-expense” mentality, along with an integration with both high-tech and physiological considerations proved to be the most profitable dollar/square foot in the entire city. Everything – from art collections to dancing water fountains to botanical gardens – was designed to inspire awe. It’s that awe that inspires patrons to splurge, in a sense, to financially “rise to the occasion”.
More controversially, it’s suggested in a study by Ladouceur, Jacques, Sevigny, and Cantinotti (2005) that packing the slots tightly together made them more isolating and therefore cut the player more out of reality and thus more venerable. It’s also been established that the more visual stimuli, be it from a machine, or from the overall casino environment, the more a more risk-taking environment is induced (Finlay and Marmurek, 2003).
Although the research has sometimes varied from study to study, designers take it very seriously, and it’s safe to assume that every single machine, table, piece of art and bathroom you’re likely to come across in a casino has been placed there with the motive of encouraging patrons to gamble.
The most direct link between repeat patronage (the main goal of a casino is for visitors to come again) and atmosphere is their comfort,and to that end, we look again to the slot machines.All measures are taken at the slots to make sure that the seats are the most comfortable in the establishment. Beyond that, the most successful casinos bend over backwards to provide amenities ranging from alcohol and prize incentives all the way to adult diapers delivered to the patron’s very same seat – REALLY! Also high on the list is cleanliness, and friendly of service, both huge factors in getting return patronage (particularly during the same time frame/vacation).All of this inevitably translates into more hours spent gambling in the casino.
So while everyone knows that the house has an edge, it pays to keep your wits about you and ensure that all the bells and whistles don’t entice you to part with more money than you’ve budgeted for. After all, you’re in the casino to be entertained, not to be seduced into actions you otherwise wouldn’t be prepared to take with your bankroll. Just be sure that while you’re gambling you take a step back and pay attention at all times to enjoy the music and the casino amenities – which way you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth.