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Dispensing wisdom: ATMs on the gaming floor

The gambling industry has long been trying to perfect techniques that keep players on their premises and gambling on their games longer. In short, their aim is to introduce facilities that maximize their bottom line profits. In super-casinos around the world, restaurants are often positioned in the centre so that customers have to pass the gaming areas before and after they have eaten. Live entertainment areas for music or sporting events (e.g., boxing matches) are also positioned similarly.

This strategy is often combined with the deliberate use of circuitous paths to keep customers in the casino longer, the psychology being that if the patrons are in the casino longer they will spend more money. Large US casinos have got this down to a fine art. A number of years ago I remember going to a live music concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and on entering the casino it took me a 20- to 25-minute walk past thousands of slot machines and gaming tables before I even arrived at the auditorium! Although I didn’t gamble during the 45 minutes I was exposed to the slot machines to and from the casino entrance, I did wonder how many of the thousands in the audience had succumbed at some point.

Massachusetts-casinos-ATM-banking-law

UK gambling venues are now increasingly offering other non-gambling services (such as snack facilities and live entertainment) in a bid to either attract new customers or to keep those already in the venue as long as possible. The 2005 Gambling Act allowed even more of this diversification. It is also worth noting that some forms of gambling (such as slot machines) are far more profitable than other forms (such as table games). What’s more, slot machines don’t need a croupier to deal or spin the roulette ball. This means that most casinos worldwide are now dominated by slot machines in preference to other forms of gambling (although there are places like Macao where table games are preferred over slot machines).

Two of the biggest changes that have occurred in casinos worldwide over the last 20 years that appear to aid such a ‘maximisation’ strategy are the introduction of cash machines onto the gaming floors and the introduction of note acceptors to electronic gaming machines. At a very simplistic level, facilities like these create and enhance convenience gambling.

Note acceptors are very popular in countries like US, Canada and Australia. The gaming industry argues that note acceptors are popular with customers and enhance the playing experience in that they make life a little bit easier for the punter when standing in front of a slot machine not to have to keep going to the cashier for change. However, there is a very fine line between customer enhancement and customer exploitation. Note acceptors have the capacity to increase spending in a number of direct and indirect ways. Firstly, note acceptors increase privacy for the punter. More specifically for the punter, it avoids the potential embarrassment of letting gaming staff, friends, family or even other customers know how much they are spending. Secondly, note acceptors can aid in suspending judgment whereby more cash is transferred to credit in one go. Thirdly, note acceptors minimise breaks as players do not need to leave the machine to get change. Not taking breaks minimises ‘time out’ periods where punters can think more rationally about the money they have spent. A study carried out in Canadian casinos showed that the amount initially put into a slot machine by punters was twice as high on machines that had note acceptors. Although this is only one study, it does seem to suggest that gamblers spend more when a note acceptor is present. 

Like note acceptors, the introduction of automated cash dispensers onto the casino floor also increases privacy for the punter. Although studies have found that only a relatively small proportion of casino patrons seldom use cash dispensers at gambling venues, a significantly high proportion of problem gamblers do so. One study in New Zealand carried out by Professor Max Abbott found that only 2% of all adults interviewed in a national survey considered that greater access to these facilities led to an increase in their gambling. Among problem gamblers, this figure was over eight times as high at 17%.

In Australia, a study led by Professor Jan McMillen also found much greater cash dispenser usage at gambling venues by problem gamblers when compared to non-problem gamblers. They also found that problem gamblers withdrew larger amounts.  Money accessed in this way was most often for the purchase of both alcohol and gambling. They concluded that convenient access to cash dispenders in gambling venues contributed to greater expenditure and was a contributory factor in the development and persistence of gambling problems.

A number of other studies have reported similar findings. Problem gamblers frequently mention that adjacent access to cash dispensers is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for gambler’s exceeding their planned spending limit. Research has also shown that both problem and non-problem gamblers would prefer cash dispensers to be located away from gambling venues. It would seem that the only people who want cash dispensers on gambling premises are the operators themselves, mainly because they know it increases revenue.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abbott, M.W.  (2007). Situational factors that affect gambling behavior. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.251-278. New York: Elsevier.

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Lam, L.W., Chan, K.W., Fong, D. & Lo, F. (2011). Does the look matter? The impact of casino servicescape on gaming customer satisfaction, intention to revisit, and desire to stay. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 30, 558-567.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

McMillen, J., Marshall, D., and Murphy, L. (2004). The Use of ATMs in ACT Gaming Venues: An Empirical Study. ANU Centre for Gambling Research, Canberra.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

Design of the times: How does venue design influence gambling behaviour (revisited)?

In a previous blog I briefly examined how gaming venue design affects gambling behaviour, particularly in relation to casino atmospherics. Over the last century, the gaming industry has used various inducements and ploys to entice people to gamble. The psychology of marketing has become big business. Casinos – like any other business with a product to sell – has had to keep up with times and spend huge amounts of money in an effort to get even more of your money. As a psychologist, I have always been very interested in the design features of gambling venues. Put more simply, to what extent is psychology used in design features as a way of taking more money from you?

I have spent many years studying the situational characteristics of many gambling venues to examine this question. Situational characteristics are primarily features of the environment (such as the location of the casino, the number of casinos in a specified area, membership requirements, etc.) but can also include internal features of the casino itself (such as décor, heating, lighting). These features can be very important in both the initial decision to gamble and continued gambling once you are in the casino.

Most casinos around the world try to fill up as much floor space as they can with slot machines. This is because slots are the most profitable form of gambling for operators. The profitability of slot machines can depend on simple factors such as floor location, coin denomination and pay off schedules. Floor layout is also important in other areas. For instance, restaurants are often positioned in the centre or back of the casino so that customers have to pass the gaming areas before and after they have eaten. Another strategy is to use deliberate circuitous paths to keep customers in the casino longer, the psychology being that if the patrons are in the casino longer they will spend more money. In many US casinos the management will provide free alcoholic drinks – all in the hope that you may spend a little more while under the influence and being a little less rational!

Casino designers can also introduce environmental features to manipulate human senses. For instance, light and colour are two variables that can affect behaviour – and gambling is no exception. Psychological research has shown that colour can evoke affective states and influence behaviour. Some colours are associated with certain moods. Red is “exciting” and “stimulating”, blue is “comfortable”, “secure” and “soothing”, orange is “disturbing” and green is “leisurely”. Colour can affect physiological reactions such as blood pressure, breathing rate, mood and arousal. In gambling situations, research has shown that people will gamble and stake money more under red light than colours towards the blue end of the spectrum.

The use of sound can also be important. Constant noise and sound gives the impression of a noisy, fun and exciting environment. In addition, many slot machines play musical tunes or ring bells and buzzers if someone has won. As coins are paid out by dropping down onto a metal pay out tray (along with buzzers, bells and music), it gives the impression that winning is more common than losing – as you cannot hear the sound of losing! Music can also be used to manipulate how we feel. Two of the many effects music can have may be to heighten psychological arousal or to relax. Early studies showed that when customers in a supermarket were exposed to loud music, their shopping rate – how much they bought per minute spent in the store – was higher than when quiet music was played. Gamblers may also spend more under similar conditions although there have only been a handful of studies published to date. We have carried out a couple of experiments which have shown that gamblers play faster when there is music with a high beats per minute playing in the background.

Believe it or not – and as I pointed out in a previous blog – smell may also have an influence on gambling behaviour. Experiments carried out in Las Vegas casinos showed that a slot machine’s takings could be increased by spraying them with pleasant odours. Researchers found that the slot machines with pleasant aromas had significantly higher profits than the machines not sprayed with any odours. This is very similar to shops who pump the smell of chocolate in the run up to Valetine’s Day hoping it will increase sales.

Physical comfort is also an important factor. I call this the “seating, eating and heating” phenomenon. If a gambler is physically (as well as psychologically) comfortable, there is more chance they will stay in the casino. Comfort is therefore used by casino management to encourage and prolong gambling. For instance, taking a gambler off their feet enhances physical comfort considerably and reduces fatigue. Another obvious customer care tactic is the availability of refreshments and amenities (including toilets). Paradoxically, serious gamblers often gamble for long periods of time. Consequently, they are often reluctant to leave a slot machine or the roulette table to get a drink or food, or go to the toilet as they do not want to lose their “lucky seat” or favourite machine. Interestingly, in one research study, thirty bars with slot machines were compared with another thirty that didn’t. In the bars without slot machines, almost all of the clientele drank pints. However, in the bars with slot machines, only 8% of the clientele drank pints. The main reason for this was that slot machine players did not want to leave the machines to go to the toilet in case someone ‘stole’ their machine!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cole, T., Barrett, D.K.R., Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Social facilitation in online and offline gambling: A pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 240-247.

Dixon. L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, 297-308.

Finlay, K., Kanetkar, V., Londerville, J. & Marmurek, H.C. (2006). The physical and psychological measurement of gambling environments. Environment and Behavior, 38, 570-581

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: An observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue13/jgi_13_griffiths_2.html.

Hirsch, A.R. (1995). Effects of ambient odors on slot-machine usage in a Las Vegas casino. Psychology and-Marketing, 12, 585-594.

Lam, L.W., Chan, K.W., Fong, D. & Lo, F. (2011). Does the look matter? The impact of casino servicescape on gaming customer satisfaction, intention to revisit, and desire to stay. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 30, 558-567.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.