Have you ever heard the expression used by American casinos at the end of their publicity ads that goes, “Bet with your head, not over it”?
The phrase is the industry’s obligatory caveat that addresses compulsive gambling. It tells the casino patron to not gamble more than he can afford much the way the tobacco industry tells the smoker that “smoking may cause emphysema and other respiratory problems.” All in all, these two warnings used by two different industries catering to two different human vices are nothing more than a single objective to maintain their license to supply those vices.
So now that you know how casinos use a hit-you-over-the-head strategy to allow them to get you inside the casino, let me tell you how they use a much more subtler strategy to keep you gambling at the tables, all the while making you feel both secure and positive, even when you’re losing.
It’s a two-pronged attack called supraliminal and subliminal stimuli.
I know that this sounds a bit like a tongue-twister but in fact it’s really twisting your brain.
Let me give you a definition and samples of both.
Supraliminal Stimuli are simply any sensitive stimuli that are within the human threshold for conscious perception. This means you see what you see and you hear what you hear. Apply it to casinos and you see the bright lights that denote action and excitement and you hear the cheering of people and the ringing of slot machine jackpots that denote winning, and of course promote wanting to win and be part of the brightness and action.
I remember in several casinos having seen “Slot Machine Jackpot Hall of Fame” walls on which are photographs of happy multi-million-dollar jackpot winners holding up those condor-sized checks with all those big black zeroes on them. And then of course is each winner’s name and hometown, which appeals to all those eager passersby, especially those who might share a name or a hometown with the smiling fellow on the wall.
Then in some other part of the casino, probably close to a blackjack pit, is the same wall-display for blackjack tournament and jackpot winners. Some casinos will go as far as posting roulette tournament winners as well.
By now you get the picture. This is a hit-you-between-the-eyes-and-ears approach to get you dreaming. And it’s very effective. Even the most diehard realists, those people who actually think you have a better chance of living to the age of a thousand than winning a big slot machine jackpot find themselves feverishly pushing those buttons on the Megabucks machines.
And those people who experience the lights and the glitter of Las Vegas for the first time cannot wait to come back, even after they’ve lost more than their allotted gambling money.
Now tack on to this the even more obvious methods of supraliminal messaging casinos emit such as the hotel and dinner comps, the bonus points and rewards systems based completely on how long and for how much you play, and you have a multi-tiered attack on your senses, all of which twists your brain into an almost obsessive desire to start gambling and maintain your gambling for as long as possible.
The most blaring example of this I can remember is scary. I was once sitting at a blackjack table where the dealer was particularly hot, wiping out the players one after another. A husband watching his wife lose hand after hand finally admonished her to leave the table. Her response, which almost knocked me off my stool, was, “Honey, I don’t want to leave just yet because I still haven’t put in enough time at the table to get a dinner comp.”
She had lost at least $500 during my time at the table yet she was more worried about a securing a $50 dinner comp.
Subliminal Stimuli are exactly the opposite of supraliminal stimuli. They are simply any sensitive stimuli that are beyond the human threshold of conscious perception. They are quite subtle and make their mental impact without the subject being consciously aware of it.
The most obvious example of this in casinos, although it has been somewhat affected by the cell phone era, is the lack of clocks and windows in casinos. Even though today’s common casinogoer has a thousand and one ways to get the time of day—or night—when he wants, the absence of clocks on the wall certainly serves as less a reminder of whatever else you might be doing with your time instead of gambling in the casino.
But the most subtle instrument by which the casino gets deep inside the chambers of your mind is the physical casino itself. It is the actual design and layout of the casinos. This entails everything from how the tables are arranged to what colors they are to what their surroundings are both inside and outside the gaming pits.
Let's start with the layout of most casinos.
They are nothing more than a labyrinth of rows and columns of gaming tables and banks of slot machines. In fact, they form a gauntlet. In the large casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, when you get up from a blackjack tables, perhaps having decided you’ve had enough for that particular gambling session, you must pass platoons of other gaming tables just to get off the gaming floor. And strategically being, each row of table games in each pit mostly have the same game, which means that when you finally get out of that particular pit, you must enter a pit featuring a different casino game such as roulette, craps or carnival games.
And suddenly the boredom you felt at the blackjack table is replaced by a new excitement of trying your luck at a different game. In short, even when you want to leave the casino floor entirely, it’s so damn difficult to escape! You’d be surprised how many people end up gambling more than they had planned just because they got lost trying to get out of the casino.
And the omnipresence of slot machines never—EVER—yields. Just before you enter the casino coffee shop with your dinner comp, you pass through a bank of slot machines waiting to get you.
You’re on your way to the bathroom and you hold it in because the slot machines just outside the bathroom entrance want to empty your pockets before you empty your bladder.
When you finally make it to the coffee shop or bathroom you find yourself in a hurry to get back to the casino floor. If your intention at that point is not to gamble more and really leave the casino, good luck in finding the exit doors! They are hidden well enough by tall banks of slot machines and other obstructions that make you ask several times, “How the hell do I get outta here!”
So there you have it: the frontal and beguiling assaults on your being to get you and keep you gambling…
Oh wait! I forgot two more things, both of which are rather obvious—and subliminal. The first is the alcohol casinos serve up to you to keep you in your gambling seats and make you worry less about how much you’re losing.
The second is the oxygen that is constantly being pumped into the casino to keep you from getting drowsy because of all the alcohol your ingesting.
Okay…now you have it!
About the Author
Richard Marcus knows all too well the psychological ploys casinos use on gamblers. After all, he turned the tables on casinos for twenty-five years using his own psychological tactics to help him cheat casinos. He has often stated that without the use of psychology he never would have been as successful as he ultimately was.
Richard is considered an authority on many topics related to casinos, gambling and cheating.