It’s happened to all of us: you stride into a Las Vegas casino or Atlantic City watering hole brimming with confidence and a wallet full of cash, with plans for an enjoyable, sensible day of gambling and maybe two rounds of drinks. And then, hours later, you’re at the ATM for the third time and have no idea where all your money went. What is it about casinos that makes otherwise rational people who work hard for their money and make reasoned financial decisions on a daily basis throw hundreds or even thousands of dollars away based on the roll of a die, spin of a wheel, or draw of the cards?
The answer has a lot to do with marketing and psychology. Casinos have long used flashing lights, pulsing music, and other tricks to keep you gambling and spending more money than you intended to. They take advantage of the sunk cost fallacy, which states that you should not stop investing in something once you’ve already invested a certain amount of money, even if it has lost value. They also manipulate your senses to make winning feel more appealing.
Casinos are designed to be labyrinthine, with no straight aisles leading to the exits. Instead, they strategically place gaming sections along your path, and curved paths lure you back to that spinning wheel or poker table. When someone else wins at a game, the sounds and bright lights go off in celebration, creating a false sense of possibility that will keep you gambling.
Booze is always served, and it lowers inhibitions and clouds judgment. It’s why you’ll see gamblers urinating and defecating in the middle of the floor, often right in front of other patrons. And of course, the booze is free, making it easy to spend more than you’re capable of losing.
Most games have a mathematical edge for the house, which can be described as the expected value. But casinos can cushion the blow to a big bettors by offering them free spectacular entertainment, free hotel rooms, reduced-fare transportation, and other inducements. In addition, many casinos offer rewards programs that give players points for every dollar they play, including those times when they lose the money. These points can be redeemed for food or other amenities, which helps take the sting out of losses.
Another way casinos distract you from how much money you’re actually losing is by changing your actual cash into little colored chips that look a lot like money. This will make it easier to spend more because it doesn’t feel like you’re investing real money.
Of course, casinos also do a great job of bringing in local taxes and providing jobs for the community. This is a good thing, especially when you consider that the local government often uses those tax revenues to fund basic services and infrastructure projects. However, as many communities struggle to balance their budgets and make the necessary cuts, it’s time to take a closer look at what casinos are really doing behind the scenes.