Casinos and Psychology

  • 23 May 2023
Casinos and Psychology

Although gambling has the potential to be profitable, it's important to acknowledge that casinos are primarily focused on generating revenue, not giving it away. All forms of gambling, including roulette, blackjack, and slots, are created with odds in favor of the house, meaning that the probability of losing is typically higher than the probability of winning. While it's unlikely that someone would participate in a game with a 90% loss rate, the reality is that players will inevitably experience more losses than wins in any given game.

Playing casino games honestly and correctly will not lead to long-term profits. This raises the question: why do players keep betting despite the knowledge that they will eventually lose?

According to psychologists, casino gambling is a sophisticated psychological trap that encompasses everything from game rules to the physical layout of the establishments. The entire design is aimed at providing players with constant psychological "rewards" that keep them engaged in the game, even when they're losing money. Oriental casinos are built in accordance with the principles of feng shui, with each detail having a hidden symbolic meaning.

Macau Lisboa Casino

Let's take a closer look at the famous Macau Lisboa Casino, often touted as the pinnacle of feng shui design. However, one may wonder whose interests feng shui is truly serving, especially given that the casino's very slogan appears to be a clue:

  • "You can't win at gambling, small stakes can be enjoyable. Come and play in your spare time to have fun."

Both the old Lisboa Hotel Casino, built in 1971, and the new Grand Lisboa, which opened in 2007, were built with advice from feng shui masters, who have received fantastic fees for their work.

  • The Lisboa Hotel's architecture is designed to resemble a birdcage, creating the impression that every gambler who enters the casino is like a bird trapped in a cage.
  • Upon entering the casino, players are greeted with a fresco on the lobby ceiling depicting a ship sailing on the waves with its sails blown by the wind. This design is believed to symbolize the idea of players surrendering themselves to the elements of chance and uncertainty, much like a ship at sea, when they start gambling at the casino.
  • Both Lisboa buildings boast stunning lobbies adorned with exquisite works of art, such as paintings, sculptures, and jade, that Stanley Ho has acquired over time. While the Lisboa Hotel showcases more exhibits, the Grand Lisboa's lobby features the Star of Stanley Ho, the largest D-color diamond in the world at 218.08 carats and the sixth-largest among all "clear water" diamonds. According to feng shui, this diamond is a symbol of success and represents timeless quality.
  • Furthermore, the lobby of the Grand Lisboa features other emblems of prosperity, such as a colossal pearl-shaped vase that doubles as a fountain, a gilded dragon, and a gold-laden ship.
  • Different people associate different things with the new Grand Lisboa building, but all of them contribute to the financial success of the casino. Some people see the building as a bat hanging upside down, which represents an animal that sucks blood, and therefore they believe that the building is designed to extract money from casino customers. Others see the building as a lotus flower emerging from an egg. SJM, the company that owns the casino, believes that the base of the building resembles a Fabergé egg and the top is reminiscent of the feathers on the headdresses of Brazilian dancers. All of these associations are connected with notions of luxury and wealth.
  • Both of the buildings are strategically positioned to have access to the water of the bay, and this was not done by chance. In Cantonese, the word for "water" has a dual meaning, which also means "money".

Light, color, smell and other psychological tricks of the casino

The gambling industry has long employed various tactics to entice people to partake in gambling, investing heavily in the study of human psychology, which plays a crucial role in gambling marketing. The goal is to persuade players to continue gambling even if they are losing money.

For nearly thirty years, Dr. Mark Griffiths, a Professor of Gambling Research at the Department of Psychology in the University of Nottingham Trent, UK, has been studying addictive behavior, focusing on gambling addiction. His research has uncovered many of the secrets of casinos, including their preference for filling their inner spaces with slot machines, as they are the most profitable form of gambling.

Casinos often strategically position their restaurants towards the middle or back of the gaming floor, forcing players to pass through the gaming area before and after dining. Additionally, casinos often design winding paths to prolong guests' stay and encourage more betting. Dr. Griffiths, a professor of gambling research at the University of Nottingham Trent in the UK, noted that during a concert he attended at the MGM Arena in Las Vegas, he was compelled to walk past thousands of slot machines and gaming tables twice, before and after the event.

Research has revealed that colors can have an impact on emotional states and even bodily functions such as blood pressure, breathing, and arousal. For instance, the color red can trigger excitement, while blue creates a sense of comfort and safety. Furthermore, red lighting tends to cause people to place larger bets than blue lighting. In the United States, several casinos offer complimentary alcoholic drinks to their patrons, hoping to impair their judgment and turn them into impulsive gamblers.

Casinos often use background music or soft noise to create an atmosphere of excitement and interest. Music has the power to arouse or relax people, and studies have shown that the more music is played in a supermarket, the more people tend to shop. Similarly, in casinos, the louder the background music, the quicker the guests place their bets. Slot machines play congratulatory music, jingles, or buzzes when players win money, and the sound of falling coins hitting the metal plate creates the impression that winning is easy, while the silence during losses is often ignored.

According to studies conducted at Las Vegas casinos, smell can also have an impact on gambling behavior. Spraying pleasant scents in the slot machine area can increase guests' betting, as observed in the experiments. This is similar to the tactic used by some malls that spray chocolate scents on Valentine's Day to boost sales. Griffiths agrees that scents can influence our behavior, and this tactic is often used by casinos to encourage players to spend more time and money in the gaming area.

Players tend to prolong their stay in the casino when they feel comfortable both physically and mentally. Casinos offer various amenities to increase guest comfort, such as allowing them to recline to reduce fatigue and offering a spread of snacks, tea, and other drinks. Additionally, some avid players refuse to leave their slot machine or roulette table to purchase food or drinks, as they fear someone else may take their "lucky seat".

Thus, we can distinguish such psychological tricks of the casino: 

  • Extending the guests' stay in the gaming area.
  • The use of color.
  • The use of light.
  • Free alcohol.
  • Mild noise or background music.
  • Exciting sound background when winning.
  • Spraying pleasant smells in the arcade area.
  • Allowing guests to sit back - everyone is brought in.

The Psychological Trap of "Almost Winning"

A survey conducted in Great Britain showed that players tend to be blindly optimistic while playing and think that they have won more money than they have lost. This is wrong, because casinos are always in profit. Griffiths has found that players' perceptions are biased. They always think about how many times they have won, "forgetting" about when they have lost. People who gamble frequently are more likely to make these mistakes.

Even if they know for sure that they are losing more than they are winning, most players cannot stop playing. Griffiths believes the reason is simple: players are regularly rewarded for their play. When they win money, they get not only monetary rewards, but also "physical rewards" such as excitement, tension and dizziness caused by adrenaline release. And congratulations from players and spectators excite them even more and create a "spiritual reward".

Griffiths' research has shown that the most interesting psychological reward in gambling is "almost winning". Methods of gambling, such as slot machines, are specifically designed to give people a strong sense of "almost winning". When you are learning and practicing a useful skill, the feeling of "almost achieved" is a very useful feedback that tells you that your efforts were not in vain, that you are very close to your goal, and encourages you to keep working hard. However, in gambling, where winning or losing depends solely on luck, "almost winning" is useless and even harmful feedback. After all, no matter how close you were to winning in the previous game, it has no effect on winning or losing in the next game.

Dr. Griffiths connected heart rate monitors to players as they played. It was observed that the heart rate increased dramatically not only when they won, but also when they "almost won". The level of physiological arousal was the same, even if "almost winning" was by definition a loss. This helps to understand why gamblers continue to bet even if they lose again and again.

Player Mistakes in the Casino

Dr. Griffiths explains the next important term, "player error".

"Player error" is the delusion when players believe that the result of a bet in the previous game will have an effect on the next. It is a set of beliefs held by many players that determines their next choice. The player looks back at past results - for example, three losses in a row when betting black at roulette - and decides that the law of averages, Lady Luck, or whatever else influences whether red will fall now.

This, of course, is not the case. Each rotation of the roulette wheel has the same chances of certain colors or numbers falling out. A player's delusion has no predictive power. One can only be certain of what happened in the past, and that knowledge has no bearing on what happens next.

Under the influence of "gambler's error" they receive "almost wins" as an encouragement, so they insist even more insistently on their betting strategy. Just a little more, just a little more, because they've almost won already... the anticipation of winning money encourages you to keep playing. Tests conducted by Dr. Griffiths confirmed that the physical excitement of "almost winning" is almost the same as the excitement of actually winning. Therefore, despite repeated losses, players think they are "almost winning money". They really feel like they are winning all the time!

Liberating the Mind

To alleviate the anxiety associated with using one's hard-earned money in gambling, casinos often replace cash with tokens or chips. This allows players to "free their minds" and bet without worrying about the actual value of their money. By exchanging cash for tokens, players are less likely to feel the emotional impact of losing money, as it no longer feels like real money.

Recently, an increasing number of casinos have been introducing smart cards, claiming to provide guests with more convenience. However, this is just another trick borrowed from traditional retailers - research has shown that consumers tend to spend more money in stores when they use credit cards. This is because card users feel less guilty about overspending and are easier to manage. Similarly, in casinos, smart cards make spending more efficient by eliminating the need for players to frequently insert coins or bills into slot machines. Once a card is inserted, players can continue gambling until their balance is depleted.

Smart cards have an additional, unpublicized function of collecting data on player behavior. Information such as age, occupation, time spent playing, and betting amounts are all meticulously recorded and analyzed in the casino's data centers. Some dishonest gambling establishments leverage this information to offer varying "discounts" at different points during the gaming process.


In any activity, people are likely to give up if they don't receive encouragement or reward. This principle applies to everything from exercising to playing games. Casinos use this principle to keep players engaged and motivated. It's important to keep this in mind, so that you don't fall into the trap of being addicted to the "near-win" sensation.

If you're aware of these psychological techniques, you can use them to your advantage when you visit a casino. Remember that you're in control of your own actions, despite the casino's efforts to outsmart you. By keeping this in mind, you'll have more fun and gambling won't become a problem for you.

Looking to take your skills to the next level? Check out our BLOG section for expert tips, advice, and resources on how to improve your online casino game. From mastering strategies for table games to becoming a pro at live dealer experiences, our "Blog" section has everything you need to become a top player.

Author: James Hatbill
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