Casinos banking on slot players


By Brad Plumer, Vox

The next time you find yourself in a casino, pause for a second to appreciate the architecture.

Casinos put an enormous amount of thought into their designs. The layout of the tables, the patterns on the carpet, the lighting — they’re all explicitly engineered to make gambling more seductive and get you to spend more money.

One surprising example are the curving hallways around the property. Many casinos try to avoid making you ever have to turn at a 90° angle. As Natasha Dow Schüll explains in her fascinating book, Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, a right-angle turn forces people to call upon the decision-making parts of their brain — to stop and reflect on what they’re doing. “Casinos don’t want that,” Schüll told me. “They want to curve you gently to where they want you to go.”

But as Schüll discovered, almost nothing in a modern-day casino is more carefully engineered than its slot machines.

Slot machines and video gambling were once marginal to the success of casinos — but nowadays, they account for up to 85 percent of the gaming industry’s profits. And casinos have devised a dizzying array of strategies to make these machines as addictive as possible, from the elaborate algorithms beneath the hood to the position of the armrests.

Schüll, a cultural anthropologist at MIT, spent 15 years in Las Vegas tracking the evolution of slot machines, exploring how and why they’ve become so addictive. We spoke recently by phone about how gambling has changed dramatically over time and how the gaming industry has drawn on psychological insights to make its games more addictive — often with tragic consequences.

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Comments (2)
  1. Garry Bowen says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    I beg to differ as to “slot machines and video gambling were once marginal to the success of casinos” (clever choice of words). . .slot machines have always been a large part of casino ‘wins’ (at least when ‘one-armed bandits’ were around) as video games did not exist. . .

    Slots are the workhorse, the other games are the draw of excitement. . . that’s simply why more floor-space is devoted to them – something both Harrah & Harvey knew. . .

    Cy Redd, CEO of [originally Bally’s] & Founder of IGT, started by buying up ‘slot routes’ in rural Nevada, then started experimenting with “electronics”, which subsequently replaced the mechanical ‘one-armed’ bandits, and also freed up capital for casinos as he then leased ‘electronic’ (far larger efficiency over ‘fix-it’ mechanical ones) and took a percentage of the profit – a brilliant business model, as casinos had no idea that electronic were as trouble-free as they are)… that’s probably why the number “85%” is now used.

    The other games are iffy: ’21’ can be break-even or a loser depending on the skill of the players, ‘craps; is just that – win or lose. . .

    Roulette’s odds are disturbed by the ‘0’ or ’00’ and keno’s odds against you are the same whether you buy a ticket or not: very bad for you.

    The ’90 degree’ angle is probably correct, along with the fact you’ll never find a clock in a casino – part of the routine of both exchanging money for chips & plying you with drinks, so you’ll lose all sense of time (or how much you’re playing) while there. . . “24/7”, indeed. . .

    A lot of Harrah’s executives joined IGT when created, after he died, resulting in IGT’s current place in global gaming. . .

    IGT started as A-1 Supply, then SERCOMA (standing for Sy Redd Coin Machines), then its current International Game Technologies (IGT). . .with its’ world-wide scope.

    As to the ‘architectural’ part, the recent change of floor coverings at Harrah’s Stateline would be a case-in-point: big, bold, exciting patterns with enough colors to match most of what was already there, and for your eye to follow – but subdued in the “high-limit” areas, so they don’t suffer as much ‘distraction’, but overall, a re-introduction of elegance as needed. . .

  2. dumbfounded says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    It’s all about reducing the number of employees. For some reason, corporate America thinks that employees are a liability rather than an asset. I think that they are wrong. Most people would rather interface with a friendly and well-trained employee than a machine. What is ironic to me, is that they have no problem seeing the “value” of well-compensated executives…