Casino Psychology 101: How Casinos Trick You into Spending More

Many gamblers walk into casinos knowing full well that the house has an advantage. Casinos skew the odds in their favor to maintain a slight long-term edge.

But what many players don’t account for is all the subtle tricks that gambling venues use to keep them betting. The goal is to entertain customers with flashing lights, drinks, beautiful cocktail waitresses, and more so that they want to keep playing.

It’s easy to fall for these gimmicks when you’re not aware of them. Not knowing the tricks creates a bigger possibility that you’ll gamble more and eventually bust your bankroll.

Luckily, though, you stand a better chance of sticking to your bankroll plan by identifying various casino tricks. I’m going to cover the main ways that casinos subtly convince you to spend more.

Casinos Are Designed to Be an Adult Playground

Casinos were at one time designed in a maze-like structure. This maze of slot machines, table games, and other obstacles kept players in the areas where casinos wanted them to be.

The maze design was a standard for Las Vegas casinos for decades. But it has been replaced by an adult-playground model.

Gambling venues no longer want customers feeling like trapped rats. They instead create an entertaining environment that makes people want to stick around.

Casino designer Roger Thomas popularized the more-recent trend in casino layouts. He told the New Yorker that people “don’t want to make bets when they feel trapped or overwhelmed or confused.”

Thomas believes that gamblers “take on the characteristics of a room.”

They’re more likely to bet big when they’re in the presence of luxury.

Many of Thomas’ designs back up this assertion, with the Bellagio being a perfect example of how he broke the mold. This Vegas casino features ceilings adorned with silk fabric, a breathtaking lobby, real flower arrangements, and European-style furnishings.

Gamblers may love the idea of playing in luxury, rather than being treated like rodents. But the idea is still the same: keep people gambling in the casino.

Fewer players will want to leave when they’re betting in what feels like a palace. This concept has inspired modern casino designs across the world.

Slot Machines Offer Losses Disguised as Wins

Slots are more entertaining than ever before. One reason why is because they now offer dozens or even hundreds of paylines, which provides more chances to win.

In contrast to the old one-payline, three-reel slots, modern machines have anywhere from 10-300 lines. This setup gives you an opportunity to win multiple prizes in each round.

But hidden beneath the many lines is a nefarious concept. You can now win prizes in each round, yet lose money overall. This scenario is known as losses disguised as wins (LDWs), which can trick you into believing that you’re winning even when it’s not so.

Here’s an example of LDWs:LK

  • You bet $2 on a spin.
  • You win a $0.50 payout.
  • The game lights up and lets out a winning sound effect.
  • You’ve lost $1.50 overall, despite the theatrics.

You can obviously see that this is a losing round. However, LDWs make it feel like you’re still successful.

It doesn’t help matters that lights and vibrant sound effects go off. The speed of slots also plays a role, because you don’t have time to do the math after LDWs.

Natasha Dow Schüll, who wrote, Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, discussed LDWs with Vox.

“The laboratory research on (LDWs) shows that people experience this in their brains in an identical way as a win.”

The research that Schüll refers to was performed by the University of Waterloo. The team wanted to know if LDWs create the same “arousal” as real wins.

They measured skin conductance response (SCR) and heart rate after true wins, LDWs, and complete losses. They found that real wins and LDWs caused nearly the same arousal effect.

Don’t think about how many chances you have to win on a multi-line slot. Instead, consider how these games can fool you into thinking that you’re winning.

Vibrant Sound Effects & Flashing Lights Are Mesmerizing

As mentioned above, slot machines feature flashing lights and loud sounds following wins. These aspects can seem like harmless entertainment aspects at first. But they’re also features that are used to further sell LDWs.

A study reveals that the combination of lights and sound effects can cause people to play faster. Gamblers can even fall into a trancelike state, where they totally forget their surroundings.

You may have played a video game that captured your attention and kept you playing for hours. Slot machines are designed to do the same thing – only with the potential to harm your finances.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) performed research on slots lights and sound effects. They found that problem gamblers are at greater risk of falling into a slots trance than recreational players.

Luke Clark, who headed the study, told UBC News that these trances are a big reason why players lose track of time.

“When the experienced slot machine gamblers played,” he said, “we found they not only felt that they lost track of time and their surroundings. But they often failed to notice the shapes on the periphery of the machine.”

It’s fine to be entertained by slots and want to play them for a while. But don’t let cool sound effects and lights convince you to play too long.

Ugly Carpet Keeps Your Eyes on the Games

You may have walked through a casino before and wondered if the interior decorator is on a lengthy vacation. After all, many casinos feature ugly carpet with bright colors, swirls, and ugly designs.

Gambling establishments aren’t this clueless when it comes to decorating.

They intentionally want their carpets to look as garish as possible.

Their goal is to keep your eyes focused on the games and other areas where you can spend money. Hideous carpet furthers this goal by getting you to look around the room, rather than at the ground.

This isn’t to say that casinos are entirely tacky in the way that they decorate. Visit any Vegas Strip casino, and you’ll immediately notice spectacular lobby furnishings. However, casinos take a different approach on the gaming floor and want you to stay focused on the games.

The Gambling Floor Doesn’t Have Windows or Clocks

One of the best-known casino tricks involves the absence of windows and clocks on the gaming floor. The idea is to keep players from thinking about what time it is or staring out the window.

Of course, many people these days carry their smartphones. They can easily look at their phone to see the time.

But the same visitors keep their phones in their pockets. They must, therefore, actively look at their screen to see the time. Gambling venues don’t want to assist customers in knowing the hour, so they cut out clocks.

It also helps casinos because many gamblers are either on vacation or taking a weekend trip. They’re less likely to care about the time if they don’t have anywhere specific to be.

Regarding windows, you’ll see plenty near the resort entrance and exit. But once you’re in the gaming area, you won’t be privy to windows.

The windowless room ensures that you won’t look outside and see any visible attractions. This is especially important on the Vegas Strip, where there are numerous things to do around every corner.

Another way that casinos benefit from the lack of windows is that you’ll have more trouble telling when day turns to night. Instead, you’ll feel like the time never changes.

You Gamble with Chips & Tickets – Not Money

It’d be easier to see your money slipping away on a bad gambling night if you bet with cash. Casinos realize this, which is why they use a system of chips and tickets.

Table games have featured chips for decades. Each chip denomination is colored differently to represent its value.

It’s easy to understand how much money you’re wagering as long as you know which color represents each denomination. However, your mind is still less likely to associate these chips with real money.

Losing clay chips, rather than dollar bills, is a bit less worrisome. Additionally, you’ll feel more like you’re playing a fun game, rather than putting money on the line.

All slot machines once required quarters. But nearly all slots these days now use a ticket-in, ticket-out (TITO) system.

TITO serves two purposes for gaming establishments:

  • It requires less manpower because coin hoppers no longer need to be emptied.
  • It does a better job at separating you from your money.

This situation is very similar to table-game chips because you’re still less likely to associate paper tickets with money.

Sure, you’ll still know in the back your mind that cashing in this slip gives you money in return. However, tickets aren’t as easily associated with money as cash or quarters.

When you’re tired of playing a slot and want to try a new one, you simply hit the cashout button and collect your ticket. You can then insert the ticket into the next machine.

This scenario is easier than lugging around a bucket of quarters. Tickets also speed up the game and make you more prone to keep playing, because you needn’t pause to insert quarter after quarter.

Interactivity Gives You the Feeling of Control

Some casino games like blackjack, craps, roulette, and video poker give you betting options and/or let you touch the equipment. This interactivity can make gambling all the more fun.

It’s exciting to pick up the dice and feel like everything is riding on your roll. It’s also entertaining to use complex strategy in blackjack to improve results.

Casinos want you to feel like you have control over these games.

Using strategy and touching the gambling equipment makes it seem like you have a big effect on odds.

But this is largely an illusion because the house still holds an advantage. Even blackjack, which features a low house edge, gives the casino a long-term advantage.

Your odds are still better with these games than with most slot machines, which don’t give you any degree of control. Certain video poker variations, for example, offer you over 99% payback when a perfect strategy is used.

Again, though, you’re still at a disadvantage in the long run. Don’t get too carried away in feeling like you have serious control in these situations.

Blackjack or video poker strategy will boost your chances of winning. But they don’t give you an edge on the house.

Comps Make It Feel Like You’re Winning – Even on a Bad Night

Comps are a fun part of gambling that allow you to pick up rewards like free drinks, meals, hotel stays, and other bonuses. Some gamblers are obsessed with comps to the point where they’ll play longer just to get upgraded freebies.

It seems harmless to continue playing when you’re having a good time and want to get a free hotel room. But the biggest thing to realize is that comps are never worth the potential losses.

Here’s an example to explain:

  • You’re playing a slot with a 6% house edge.
  • The casino’s slots comp rate is 0.1%.
  • You bet $1,000.
  • 1,000 x 0.06 = $60 in losses
  • 1,000 x 0.001 = $1 in comps
  • 60 / 1 = 60
  • The losses are 60x higher than the rewards.

Don’t gamble any longer than you want to just to rack up comps. These rewards won’t come close to equaling the theoretical losses you’ll suffer when trying to earn them. You’re actually better off just buying whatever comps you’re trying for.

Skill Based Games Create the Impression That You can Win

Land-based casinos have begun trying out skill-based slot machines over the past few years. Their main goal with skill-based gaming is to attract the millennial crowd, which isn’t playing traditional slots as much as previous generations.

These types of slots feature some degree of skill, most notably in the bonus round. Your abilities will influence how many credits you win in the bonus.

Here’s an example:

  • Scientific Games’ Space Invaders involves spinning the reels like normal.
  • You trigger the bonus by landing three or more scatter symbols.
  • You can pick either the skill-based bonus or random bonus (free spins).
  • The skill-based round involves controlling a ship and shooting aliens.

The best thing about skill-based slots is that they bring more interactivity to the reels. You’re no longer playing the entire game mindlessly while hoping to net a big win.

One problem, though, is that you may overestimate your chances of winning with these games. A skill-based slot is mostly like any other type of slot machine.

The only difference is that you have a small degree of control and the bonus. However, this control isn’t enough to swing the advantage in your favor. Casinos still hold the edge with skill-based slot machines.

Free Drinks Affect Your Decision Making

Free drinks are the most-common comp given out by casinos. Many players see drinks as harmless offerings that are given as a reward for their gambling.

But the reality is that the casinos want to affect customers’ decision-making abilities. Alcohol is well known for removing one’s inhibitions.

You may know better than to make $100 bets based on your bankroll size. However, 2-3 drinks might convince you to make place larger wagers than you’re equipped for.

You also may want to play longer than normal. Having a few drinks creates a party atmosphere that you won’t want to walk away from.

Of course, it’s hard to turn down free alcohol when you’re gambling. If you have a problem with this, then you should only bring an amount of money to the floor that you’re willing to lose.

Nothing is stopping you from reloading your chips stack or slots bankroll after losing. But if you keep your debit and credit cards in your room, then you’ll be less likely to want to return.

Slots Payback Signs Can Be Misleading

Many casinos advertise when they offer high return to player (RTP). They do this by hanging signs over slots areas that read something like: “Up to 98% payback.”

At first glance, the sign makes it seem like you’ll find multiple slot machines in the area with 98% RTP. The truth, though, is that only one game in the section has to offer this high of payback.

The big problem with land-based slot machines is that they don’t display their RTP.

Therefore, you’re left guessing as to which machine offers the 98% payback.

You can go around playing all of the games in the bank while eventually hoping for the high RTP. But you’ll also be subjected to a number of slots that could pay back anywhere from 88% to 95%.

Las Vegas’ Megabucks is the only land-based slot I know of that offers publicly available RTP. Outside of this isolated example, you won’t know the RTP of the games you’re playing. This is why I recommend that you never choose your slot based on a vague sign hanging from the ceiling.

Conclusion

Casinos use various tricks to keep you gambling, ranging from the venue’s design to how games operate. Understanding how each of these ruses works helps you avoid over-betting and makes gambling more enjoyable.

The first thing to be aware of is how casinos are designed. These establishments are fashioned into an adult playground, consisting of fun games, free drinks, hot waitresses, and bright lights.

The experience is a large part of going to the casino. But don’t get so sucked in that you forget about everything else.

Speaking of which, you never want to forget the time. Casinos purposely don’t have clocks and windows in hopes that you’ll lose track of time. Set alarms on your smartphone so that you receive jolting reminders on how long you’ve been playing.

Slot machines are another thing to watch out for. LDWs and flashing lights can make you feel like a winner, even when you’re not. Always be mindful of how much you’re actually winning/losing and don’t let the machine convince you differently.

Even table games can be misleading, especially when they feature strategy or interactivity. The house still has an advantage in craps, for example, even though you can physically roll the dice.

Be aware of the fact that you’re always betting real money too. Chips and slots tickets represent actual money, even though they’re not physically cash.

One more important point is to realize the true value of comps – which isn’t much. It’s always nice to earn these rewards, but don’t go out of your way to get them.

Gambling is supposed to be about having fun. And you’ll be better able to experience this enjoyment as long as you see through the casino’s tricks.

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Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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