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Casino Psychology 101: What Makes Casinos Addictive

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On the surface, casinos seem like fun places to spend a Saturday night with friends. These attractive establishments have everything it takes to create a fantasy world, from elaborate light fixtures to endless rows of glowing slot machines.

Most guests probably don’t contemplate a casino’s design or glitzy decor when they’re placing bets. They don’t realize how every detail in a casino is designed to make them spend more and crave coming back, no matter how much they lose.

What makes casinos so addictive even though the house always wins in the end? Explore casino psychology tricks and designs that entice people into gambling the night away below.

How Casinos trick you to spend more

How Casinos Use Psychology to Trick You Into Spending More

Intentional design choices in the casino have an influence on the psychology of gambling. Casinos do not just use attention-grabbing slot machines to make guests sit down. These businesses apply a range of techniques, some proven by science, to put customers in a trance and make them less aware of their spending. Here are just some of the casino tricks that make you spend more:

1. Enticing Design

Casinos are carefully designed to influence visitors’ behavior. Many casinos are formed based on principles set by Bill Friedman and Roger Thomas.

Friedman, who once had a gambling addiction, studied the elements that made casinos successful. His strategy is known as classic casino design, and it focuses on using slot machines as the primary decor and creating intimate, windowless spaces. These cozy spaces are meant to feel like home and keep people playing for as long as possible.

Friedman’s design also includes labyrinth-like walkways lined with enticing games. This maze of slot machines is meant to disorient visitors and compel them to play as they try to find the bathroom or exit.

Thomas puts less attention on slot machines and focuses more on making guests feel as relaxed as possible. His style, known as playground design, features high ceilings, beautiful decor and an easy-to-navigate layout. Like classic casino design, the playground style encourages people to stay longer and come back — despite how much money they lose.

2. Lack of Clocks and Natural Light

It’s very easy to lose track of time in a casino because there usually are no windows or clocks to remind you how long you’ve been playing. When you don’t think about time, you don’t feel pressured to step away from the game and head home. You can lose yourself entirely in gambling and get into a “zone.”

Individuals who have a gambling addiction may go to a casino specifically to escape into that zone, and it doesn’t matter to them if they lose. They might spend several hours at a single machine, trapped in a trance-like state and unable to feel the pain of life’s problems.

3. Stimulating Lights and Sounds

When you enter a casino, your senses are overwhelmed with exciting bright lights and the loud sounds of winning. This highly stimulating environment completely draws players in, enabling them to ignore the outside world and act before thinking about their losses.

Consider this study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. According to the study, reward-linked stimuli, such as slot machine lights and sounds, can promote risky decision-making, particularly when audio and visual elements are used together. The researchers concluded these cues might promote problem gambling.

Casinos also play background music to affect how people behave. For instance, a study from the Journal of Behavioral Addictions found that people who gambled while listening to a low-tempo soundtrack gambled longer because it had a relaxing effect. By contrast, those who heard high-tempo music had faster reaction times with betting. In other words, casinos can use music to encourage people to bet without thinking first.

4. Memorable Scents

Think of the last time you’ve been in a casino — can you remember how it smelled? Casinos might use scents to promote their brand, cover unpleasant odors and get people to spend more. One study found that people put about 45% more into slot machines in odorized areas.

Today, casinos waft scented oils throughout their ventilation systems to make customers comfortable as they gamble and keep them coming back. People can even purchase the scent of their favorite casino.

You’ll find restaurants and bakeries in casinos, too, creating the aroma of delicious food. When combined with dazzling lights and the joyful sound of slot machines, casinos create a manufactured blissful experience. This euphoric setting makes people want to stay and gamble.

5. Near-Misses

Slot machines can be programmed to use near-misses, which can keep players playing. A near-miss is when someone comes close to winning.

A slot machine player might get four out of the five symbols needed to win. When they see they’re only a symbol away from the top prize, they get filled with excitement. Even though they don’t win the jackpot, they might believe they have a better chance of winning next time. They may also fear that if they stop playing, they’ll miss their opportunity to win big.

Researchers investigated the effects of near-misses on the brain and found that near-misses stimulate the brain’s reward system despite no monetary reinforcement. So, just the excitement of almost winning can be just as pleasurable as actually winning. This effect increases the desire to keep playing and may also be associated with a gambling addiction.

Although the near-miss trick might not work on everyone, it could strongly affect people suffering from pathological gambling.

6. Familiar Concepts

Have you ever seen a slot machine modeled after a popular TV show?

Slot machines are often based on familiar TV shows, games, places and people to attract gamblers and make them feel comfortable playing. You might find “Wheel of Fortune” or “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” slot machines, which evoke images of winning cash. These familiar concepts keep people playing, even if they’re using a complicated machine. The more they play, the more they lose.

7. Cashless Games

When you play a slot machine, you’ll first feed cash into it. Your money is then converted into digital credits. When it’s time to cash out, the machine will not give you your change. Instead, it’ll print a voucher. These convenient vouchers make it easier for guests to forget they’re spending real money.

Table games also use cashless methods to keep players playing by turning their cash into chips. It’s easier to bet a large amount when you’re playing with chips instead of real coins and dollars. It also hurts less to lose chips until you realize later how much you’ve lost.

8. A Sense of Control

Some games give players a false sense of control. When you play craps, you get to roll the dice. Likewise, when you play video poker, you get to choose which cards to keep.

These more interactive games may cause some people to think they have a better chance of winning because they have more control. As a result, they might play longer, thinking they’ll eventually win back everything they lost. The truth is, no matter how much control you think you have over a game’s results, the house ensures it ultimately wins.


Contact Gateway Foundation for Help With Problem Gambling

Overall, casinos are designed to make guests spend more money, and they are not concerned about their guests’ well-being. Instead, they use these tricks to promote problem gambling, hoping to generate as much revenue as possible.

Although you might not beat the house at their own game, you can still come out on top. If you’ve developed a gambling addiction, there is help available so you can recover and resist the urge to gamble.

At Gateway Foundation, we understand that gambling addiction is not much different than a substance use disorder. We offer inpatient and outpatient treatment programs to address gambling disorders and any underlying issues contributing to the addiction. Whether you or a loved one are ready to give up gambling for good, know that we’re here for you. Contact us today to start your recovery.

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