Over the years, casinos have employed a wide plethora of tactics to keep people stimulated. The more stirred up and excited a person is, the more likely it is they will follow instincts instead of reason, which is good for the house, because that means more gambling. Raising oxygen levels, air filtration and even pheromones in the ventilation system have been reported which only stands to show you how far casinos are willing to go in order to get you to play their games and consequently get your money.
While these are just myths – of course, tempering with oxygen levels and pheromones is not only unethical but also completely illegal, there are other methods to keep players coming back to the casino. Some of these tactics are quite obvious. Others are much more concealed and are only known by casino owners, psychologists, and people with some expertise in gambling. So, why are we tempted to play slots even though we know the odds are against us?
The Addictive Psychology of Slots
Most forms of gambling – whether that would be betting on sports, lotteries, or casino games, could lead to compulsive behaviors. Gambling addiction is a serious health issue that is recognized by psychologists and therapists around the world. Of course, most slots players are not problem gamblers – or at least, not in the general sense. Yet, they feel compelled to play – usually, they associate slot games with positive emotions and having fun.
But slots are actually addictive and their addictiveness could be explained with the basic psychological principles discovered and described in the 1960s by B.F. Skinner, one of the most influential US psychologists and the author of the theory of behaviorism. In his experiment, he started giving pellets of food to pigeons when they pressed a lever. After a while, Skinner changed the mechanism and the food would be dispensed randomly. Yet, he noticed that the pigeons would keep pressing the lever in the hope for food even when the release of pellets was random.
If the release of food was not frequent enough, the birds would soon lose interest and stop participating. If they received too much food, they would not get the tension, the excitement they apparently were looking for. So they would not push the lever as often. Sounds familiar? Gambling and slots, in particular, work in a similar way – they influence human behavior by creating an expectation that finds release via random rewards. Combining tension and release is the key to slots’ addictiveness, much like in the Skinner box experiment described above.
Free Drinks and Food
Nowadays, a more common method is to give out free drinks to players, provide free snacks, give out membership cards and other perks all with the single purpose of making you feel special. If it works, you are probably going to stay there for extended periods of time, waste a lot of money and keep coming back so you can recreate those feelings. The place, itself, makes you feel right at home. There are other gambling enthusiasts, just like you. They make you feel accepted. No one is judging you. No one is reminding you of your responsibilities. It’s paradise. Or so it seems, while in fact all of this is created in the interest of taking your money.
It is not just that, though. The game has many levels. It is a proven fact that the more senses the house stimulates, the more likely it is they will be able to influence your decisions. If they try only one thing (say, free drinks), that is just one of your senses and a single factor so the probability of success is not that high. However, add sounds and visuals to the gustatory sensations, as well as nice aromas floating through the air, and what you get is a very compelling atmosphere.
Special Lights to Attract Attention
Casinos would use special lights for the unoccupied machines so they can attract your attention. Sounds are also frequently employed so you cannot just walk by and not take an interest in what is going on. The sounds and lights are often the same, or at least in many ways similar to the ones the machine uses when someone wins, so you cannot help but look around when you hear the sounds of victory.
You think that someone has won but you see that the machine is empty. It is almost as if fate wants you to play. The bright colors, the alluring lights, the tantalizing sounds – the machine is speaking to you. It wants you to win. Why would you turn down such a glaring opportunity to deprive the house of some of its money? That doesn’t make any sense. You have to play. Or at least this is what the intended effect is. You will be surprised at how often it works.
It’s not a coincidence that the sounds and lights are so basic, either. They are designed to condition you, and it is much easier to condition someone using something primary and fundamental than it is if you try with something complicated. The sounds you associate with winning are forever linked to your excitement. You are going to look for them. Every time you hear them, you will remember the exhilarating experience and will want to recreate it again. The psychological element is huge in every casino game. Don’t think that just because slots are automated that it is not there. Everything is catered in a proficient money-grabbing way.
Confusing Patrons and Keep Them Away from Reality
If you have ever been to a land-based casino, you have probably noticed that there are no windows and no natural light. There are no clocks and the temperature, lights, music, and sounds are constant at any time of the day or night. This is intentional – such tactics are used in all gambling establishments and the purpose is to confuse the patrons. This way they cannot track the time and cannot really say how much time they have spent in the casino.
Another interesting fact about most venues is that their gaming floors resemble a labyrinth. The idea is that with all the huge billboards and advertisements outside, it is really easy to find the casino. But once you are in, there is no Exit sign, at least not an instantly visible one, so it could be difficult to just stand up and leave.
There are also all kinds of attractions to keep players entertained, especially in large casinos in Las Vegas. Along with the gaming area, there are restaurants, night clubs, and even a hotel where all your needs would be satisfied. Large casinos would provide players with accommodation, dining, and entertainment so there is no need to leave the premises the entire weekend. There are even shopping areas, fitness, spa, and many more. And of course, most bars and restaurants work all night.
Reward Points and Loyalty Programs
Practically all casinos tend to reward their regular visitors with comp points, loyalty programs, VIP cards, and similar perks. This is one of their most powerful tools to attract and retain patrons and it works both with casual, recreational players and those who consider themselves serious gamblers – these are usually the high-rollers who spend more time on the blackjack or poker tables than they do on the slot machines.
Furthermore, rewarding patrons with loyalty programs and free stuff works even in online casinos. There, players receive tons of bonuses, which seem very appealing but have really restrictive terms and often, requirements and conditions that are simply impossible to meet. The comp points are awarded whenever a real-money wager is made on the table games or on the slots. Once you collect enough points, you can redeem them for cash, free spins, or something else.
In reality, these loyalty schemes and programs are much worse than they seem since you need to spend a lot of money to receive some small reward such as 10 free spins on a slot, $5 bonus, or a buffet coupon. Still, they are a good option for those who have decided to gamble anyway – at least they have a chance to get some return on their investment even if they lose most of their bankroll. Serious, proficient gamblers would try to get an advantage of such programs by combining the free perks with playing games with an extremely low house edge.
Other Tricks Casinos Employ to Attract Players
Some casinos even have demo-machines with the objective of making you enter the premises. They can be bigger, brighter, or can offer free trials with a prize. It doesn’t matter how they do it – if you enter the casino, they have done their job well. And this is probably where gamblers should be warned. Although playing slots always carries a risk and represents some of the worst bets in the entire casino, playing slots outside of a casino is even riskier.
The machines outside casinos and even at unlicensed venues are not inspected by organizations protecting the bettor’s interests as much as those in the casinos, hence they offer even bigger house edge. You may find them in bars, pubs, cruise ships, or even airports. Wherever you spot them, stay away. Ignore the temptation. You need to understand that you will almost always lose.
Researchers have also described the interesting condition casino players enter when they are sitting at the slot machines. They seem to forget about the outside world and about everything else in their lives – all that matters is the game before them. This phenomenon referred to as “dark flow” could lead to spending too much time and money on the slots.
It is also important to understand that while many psychologists would consider the absence of mindfulness and awareness during play a serious problem, it actually is very pleasurable to the player. Slots are loved not only for their pure entertainment value but also for their effect akin to a therapeutical session. At least, this is how it feels to the player.
How to Resist the Temptation?
Is it possible to resist the temptation to play slots? Of course, it is but we are probably not asking the right question – after all, slots are a form of entertainment and could be very enjoyable if played responsibly. At the end of the day, the only way to play slots properly is to be mindful of the mental traps we described above. You need to get into the casino with the clear idea that you are going to play the one-armed bandit and that you will probably lose like many others before you, but that is OK because you will have some fun in the process.
You need to remember that the odds are against you, that the game is based on luck, and that you won’t solve anything by pouring more money into the machines. That is the only way you can truly “win” at slots, whether you win or lose. In fact, not losing too much counts as a win in this case.