Casino Psychology

5 years ago
Casino Psychology: How the Big Rooms Keep You Playing
18 Mar

Having never been to a casino until early last year, I was pleasantly surprised by my first poker-tournament visit. As an online poker-player for several years, and an avid viewer of all forms of TV poker shows, I was fairly sure I knew what to expect, but I still received a shock when I realised just how many other games, and other people, were sharing the space!

More surprising, however, was the fact that the numbers almost never dwindled. From 7pm until the end of my first tournament at 4am (when I somehow found myself playing heads-up for the bigger part of £1000) the slots and roulette wheels, the blackjack tables, and other games which I didn’t even recognise, were still going strong.

It was a mixture of young and old, well-dressed and casual, diners sauntering across from the restaurant, and groups of young men or young women drunkenly flirting across the felt – with money being spewed everywhere, the occasional winning cheer reverberating around the walls.

Only now, having recently found out that there is such a thing as ‘Casino-design Psychology’, do I understand why the gaming tables and machines are always full – even as the tournament poker tables empty themselves into just a few cash-games.

For a newbie to such things, as I confessedly am, the fact that Casino Design magazine is currently working on volume 64 (!) shows just how much I have to learn…so…


My casino, in Edinburgh, Scotland, is quite small compared to many, but even here, the concept of ‘stimulating the gamblers’ senses’ is incorporated as fully as possible.

A stimulated gambler is one who will spend more money – or as much of it as they have! – so casino’s use techniques and tricks to keep them from falling asleep! Lots of noise from machines, lights flashing and plenty of colour to keep the sense alert. This starts as soon as you hit the casino floor – my own casino having a bar to the right, games to the left, the restaurant further on, and the poker tables at the very back. It's the same concept in Bingo - keep the drinks flowing and the regulars having a great time. Apparently, there's even proof that bingo can improve your health, as it increases your brain's activity and releases endorphins, similar to the gamblers high.

Keeping gamblers interested is paramount – so plenty of games and plenty of ways to spend money are needed. You’ll see this online as well, with virtual casinos using all these clever techniques to prevent a gambler from getting bored.

The Maze Runner

Much as they do with the layout in huge shopping malls, and many airport departure lounges, casinos make sure that entering is much easier than leaving. The games draw you in, keep you there and eventually lead you to more machines, more chances and ways of winning (and losing!). By the time you feel like exciting –even if you find the safe-route back– you’ll have to pass all the same temptations again on the way out! If you’re on a losing streak you’ll be tempted to try ‘one more game’ to recoup your losses; if you’ve just won a small fortune, there are 101 eye-catching options available to you before you escape with your earnings – ‘I could win even more! I’m on a hot streak!!)

Such designs don’t just happen by chance: they are a finely-sculpted art-form which casinos worldwide have mastered, and which many people have done serious research into.

Which machine goes where? What colours work best? Where is the cash-desk is best situated on the floor? What colour should the carpets be? Even what style of ceiling!

The best laid plans

It may be hard to believe, but the amount of thought which goes into all of these design ideas is phenomenal, and all backed up by psychological studies, some of which have concluded that there is ’more than one way to skin a cat’ when it comes to casino-design psychology.

The University of Guelph has been at the forefront of casino and gambling research, with Professor Karen Finlay leading the way. Back in 2012, she decided to test the effect of surroundings on gamblers by devising a 360° Panoscope-vision replica of famous Las Vegas casinos.

She was particularly intrigued by the decisions of Wynn’s executive vice-president of design Roger Thomas, who was responsible for many of the Wynn Resorts casino designs. As reported in Wired magazine at the time, Thomas had realized that his clubby, male-oriented-design - “a place for bourbon, testosterone, and cigars.” - was simply not working when he looked at revenues, and discovered that the majority of games being offered in the space were preferred by women.

His re-designs were described as a “ $1.6-billion bet on human psychology.” And it paid off handsomely! As told by wired:

The Bellagio generated the largest profits for a single property in Las Vegas history…per guest room, the resort generated four times as much revenue as the Las Vegas average.”

Virtually the same result

Professor Finlay used her Panoscope technique, with HD videos from wall-to-wall displaying everything a casino might offer, to compare the “mental effects of classic casinos, with low ceilings and a maze-like layout, to those of casinos designed by Thomas.”

Her results backed up Thomas’ own hugely-successful creative acumen, the modern-looking casinos offering a ‘place of refuge’ for gamblers, where even losing players would willingly return to enjoy the ‘stress-reduced’ atmosphere.

These casinos have lots of light and excellent way-finding,” she said in an interview with Wired Science writer Jinah Lehrer. “They make you feel comfortable, of course, but they also constantly remind you to have fun.”

She continued by clarifying her concept of the ‘adult playground’:

The data is clear. Gamblers in a playground casino will stay longer, feel better, and bet more. Although they come away with bigger losses, they’re eager to return.”

As Lehrer succinctly summed it up: “The beauty is a kind of anesthesia, distracting people from the pain of their inevitable losses.” And who hasn’t felt that way at some point in their life about a bad night on the felt.

Vegas, of course, is often a law unto itself – and this applies also to casino psychology, as Lehrer says in his introduction:

I’ve long believed that success in Vegas requires an intimate understanding of human nature – it’s not easy getting people to enjoy games that are stacked against them.”

Conspiracy theories…

So it might seem as though these are all nefarious moves, with the house profit being the end result and the only one that matters. Not at all according to some casino operators, who claim that half of the techniques which are supposedly ‘psychological tricks’ designed to keep taking people’s money are nothing of the sort.

The lack of clocks and windows? Many argue that this is simply another way of helping gamblers to ‘lose themselves’ in the casino environment, unwittingly spending much more time, and therefore cash, than if they could see daylight change to night or check the time.

Nonsense according to Dan Nita, the former general manager of the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana. “We recognize that everybody has their own time devices, whether it’s their phone or their watch,” was his simple explanation for why time doesn’t actually stand still in his casino. And direct sunlight? “You’d have a glare on cards and machines!” Makes sense technically, but still….

Eat, drink and be merry!

What’s that you say? Free food? Don’t mind if I do! And naturally, there is a method to the seeming madness of giving out free food, the same reason that big casinos comp high-rolling guests: keep people happy and they will stay longer and spend more.

My own little casino keeps me well-supplied with coffee and soft drinks, and on an average night at the cash tables that will save me about $30. But they more than make up for it by charging for alcoholic beverages.

Many casinos have food courts and restaurants on the casino floor, keeping customers well-fed and always under the watchful gaze of the flashing machines – finish your steak and get back to the tables!

Lights, smells, action!

Studies looking into the best colours for casino décor and the music most likely to keep punters playing are fairly thick on the ground, but scent-machines? Really? Absolutely true.

Dr, Alan Hirsch of Chicago’s Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Streeterville studied how different scents affected rates of gambling, one test relating that a 50% increase in slot revenues was seen after pumping “a pleasant but unidentifiable scent” into the slot arena on a Saturday evening.

Kaylia Cornett, writing for TimeOut Chicago magazine, explained that:

The smell may have boosted gamblers’ moods, causing them to stay longer and spend more,” according to Hirsch. “Or it may have triggered sexual arousal, which he says leads to “a more aggressive behavior pattern”—in this case, more aggressive gambling.”

Cashing in or cashing out?

This might sound like one and the same thing, but the casino are, of course, the ones who are really cashing on all this ‘psychological’ design malarkey – and it extends to your very own cashing-out process after a winning session!

The cash desk, or cage if you live in a rougher part of town than I do, tends not be anywhere near the actual exit. Naturally, if you’re weighed down with a stack or twelve of chips, the house would quite like you to chance your luck one more time before heading home, so why not make you pass by all those ‘lucky’ slots, ‘winning’ fixed-odds terminals and green-felt games one more time?


Gambling-design psychology certainly doesn’t begin and end at the revolving doors of your traditional – or modern – brick-and-mortar casino! Virtual casinos are an omnipresent part of the internet, and a great amount of thought has gone into almost every detail of any online casino worthy of the name.

As Fiddydesigns state:

A great looking casino site simultaneously urges the customer to trust the site and gets them thinking about a life of luxury at the same time. VIP lounge and paradise island themes are common, whilst others rely on the good old-fashioned iconography of classic casinos to sell the dream to the player. High production values will help to convince the customer of the professionalism – and therefore safety – of the site.”, a great source of ideas for my own article, says:

Websites are continually 'split tested' to see which graphics, colors and games work better. Enticing looks and interesting sounds are designed to keep players engaged and spending. Meanwhile, things like welcome bonuses can keep players spending so they can 'rake through' the amount needed to get their hands on the bonus money.”

It could be You!

This old motto from the UK national lottery is exactly what the casinos have in mind when they offer massive jackpot prizes on slots and other games. Once the total is high enough, almost every punter is made to feel they have a chance of taking it down: “somebody has to,” goes the reasoning, “so why not me?”

Well, apart from the odds being phenomenally stacked against you, there is no reason why not! And it’s this mentality that casinos everywhere rely on to keep the dollars and the gamblers flowing in – and it works!

I spy with my little eye…

A little game we all played as children…and now it’s time for you to try it again as adults. Next time you’re in the casino, try to spot all the very deliberate ways (tricks!) the designers have used to make staying a much-more appealing option than leaving.

If your list can’t even reach double-figures, you’re just not trying hard enough!!

Articles 2062

Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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