Of course, the free booze in Atlantic City’s casinos is a great incentive to stick around. You have to be sitting at a machine or a table to get drink service, and anybody who’s ever ordered drinks on the casino floor knows that those servers seem to always take their sweet time to get back to you—time that you’ll spend pulling that lever just a few more times. But did you know that you’re being manipulated in other ways too while you’re playing in the casinos? It’s no secret that Atlantic City’s casinos wants to keep you on the playing floor as long as possible, but how they do it might surprise you.
Welcome to the Bubble
Now that you’re inside, have yourself a seat at one of the machines or tables. There are lots to choose from. Lots, and lots, and lots to choose from, all grouped together in large formations across the floor. Don’t worry that you can’t see the exit – that’s not important. What’s important is that you’re here now, inside, and ready to play.
The geography of the long blocks of slot and electronic games and the rows of tables serves a purpose in keeping you at the casino longer. They’re obstructing your view of the exit, preventing your brain from creating a clear path to it. It’s not just the path to the exit, either. Getting to a restroom, payout machine, or guest services also requires having to navigate your way through the tight, dim maze of other players and their audible winnings.
When you can’t visualize your exit path, you’re not as likely to think about it, keeping you inside longer. Making you walk past the games with all their lights and sounds as you try to find your way out gives you lots of opportunities to stop and get back on a machine, hoping that this last time will be your chance to hit the jackpot. Distraction is key to keeping you here, and the maze you have to navigate in order to leave is full of them. And if the floor layout wasn’t confusing enough, those garish carpets are more than just a designer’s bad taste.
Yup. The carpets are in on it too. Those bold, repeating patterns that clash with each other and everything else in the room work only to bring your mind back to one thing – gambling. Try looking at the floor – it’s jarring, so you look back at the machine or table in front of you. The only place to glance is clear across the room, through the crowds of other people playing and winning. Others look across the room and see you playing too, completing the cycle of free advertising on the casino floor. Trying to map out your exit strategy while looking down at the carpet or up at the mirrored ceiling? Good luck with that.
Inside, It’s Always Trump O’Clock
Or Borgata O’Clock, or Revel O’Clock, or Wherever You’re Playing O’Clock. The point is there are no clocks. The first step to lulling you into an hours-long gambling binge is to distort your sense of time – if you can glance up at a clock and visually note how long you’ve been inside the casino, you’re more likely to make mindful decisions about how long you’ve been there and when it’s a good idea to leave. When you leave, you take your money with you, and no casino operator wants that.
The lack of windows in casinos also plays to this distortion of time. If you know it’s light out when you enter, then look outside and see the sun setting, that sets off a cue to let your brain know that you’ve been there for a substantial amount of time. The sunlight, just like the face of a clock, visually records the day’s cycle, which is tied closely with the human circadian rhythm. Removing these indicators can distort the circadian rhythm, which is exactly what casino owners want. The goal is to make it seem like time is standing still while you’re inside because when you lose track of time, you lose track of your money.
Hearing is Believing
Have you ever played at a completely silent slot machine? It’s weird, right? There’s no excitement when you win and those minor wins just look so – minor. It’s all part of the design.
The brain zeroes in to whatever activity it’s engaged with, focusing all senses on that task. When you’re playing a slot game, your eyes and ears are plugged into the game in front of you, perceiving auditory and visual clues from the machine. The cochlea, a hollow portion of the inner ear, relays all auditory stimuli to the brain through a system of neuron groups, allowing the brain to then analyze and interpret the stimuli. When a celebratory sound comes from the machine, the brain interprets it as a positive action, regardless of what the visual readout on the machine’s screen actually shows. That’s why a twenty-five cent win on a spin that cost a dollar garners noise, flashing, and animation in some games. It’s been proven that if a player is told a win is significant, he or she will perceive it that way even if money was lost on the spin.
The Music Sets the Scene
The music is another tactic to dull your sense of time and place. It’s purposely kept low – if it drowns out the sound of jackpots going off, that’d be bad for business. Instead, it supplements the atmosphere. Songs transition seamlessly into each other, careful not to upset the ambiance and take you out of “the zone.” Everything here has been carefully crafted to fade into the background, manipulating you through subtle gestures and environment changes. Those free drinks aren’t really free. You pay for them with every hand, every spin, and every decision to put your chips on black instead of red.
Keeping You Propped Up with Some Good Old O2
You’ve surely heard that casinos pump extra oxygen onto the gaming floors to keep players wide awake and energized through the night, right? Wrong. This myth has been around for years and was first attributed to Las Vegas casinos.
Artificially inflated oxygen levels are a fire hazard because oxygen is an accelerator for fire. A fire needs it to be able to spread. If this myth was true, a simple lit cigarette could cause a giant conflagration inside a casino, destroying everything inside and putting hundreds of lives at risk.
Clever Marketing or Blatant Deceit?
You’re a consumer. We live in a consumerist society, and you’re being marketed to all day, every day. It should be no surprise that casinos actively market to you once you’re through the front door. You’re a customer – you’re there to buy a service, which in this case is the chance to hit it big. It’s no different from the supermarkets that place essential items far from each other in an effort to make shoppers walk through the entire store or the clothing stores that employ scent to build a mental association with their products. In all these instances, you’re being marketed to; in the case of casinos, aggressively.
A casino’s attack on your senses is multi-pronged. Entering into one without knowing that you’re being manipulated this way can be dangerous. A little knowledge can go a long way, and understanding the situation you’re in will help you make better choices about it. Gambling in casinos is a lot of fun. Allowing yourself to be fully taken advantage of through these techniques isn’t.