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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.

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

Research into how individuals react to the characteristics of a space has been a growth area over the last twenty years. In commercial environments, research has shown that desire to stay in a shopping environment is positively associated with layout and décor. Other features of the shopping environment have been studied including textures, floor layout, music and employee uniforms. However, much less is known about gaming environments.

A number of studies have been carried out examining the subject of casino atmospherics from the perspective of slot machine players. Leisure services (like gaming) usually want the player to spend longer amounts of time in the venue because the longer that they are in there, the more money they will spend. In 2003, Karl Mayer and Lesley Johnson (University of Nevada) asserted that casino operators have a number of aims. These are to get customers into the casino, maximise the overall gaming experience and keep players in the venue, and to get repeat patronage. The first aim can be achieved through such things as advertising, loyalty schemes and ‘word of mouth’ referrals. The second and third aims depend on may factors including the type of accommodation, the types of game offered, the opportunities to win, restaurant quality, customer-staff interactions, and casino ‘atmosphere’. From the player’s perspective, Mayer and Johnson argue that ‘atmosphere’ may be the most difficult to understand.

Bill Friedman has arguably conducted the most research on casino environments and his findings show that after location, interior design is the most important variable in increasing or decreasing the effect of the location. Friedman argues that casino design influences the decision of whether or not customers who are staying at competing properties will choose to play at another casino. His view on casinos is that design encompasses many features including the interior architectural dimensions, décor, game arrangement, traffic-flow pattern, focal points, lighting and signage. From a financial perspective, Friedman found that short line of sight, a maze-type lay out, and tightly packed congested gaming areas created higher player counts than those casinos with more spacious layouts. Mayer and Johnson’s findings suggest that casino atmosphere may be a much narrower construct than previous conceptualisations with floor layout and theme appearing to be the most important to players. Other studies have also reported that casino floor layout is an important factor in how players perceive casino atmosphere.

A study by Karl Mayer and colleagues (University of Nevada) reported that a casino’s atmosphere (which was a composite of casino theme, décor, lighting, noise levels, and smoke effects) had the most influence on player satisfaction. A follow up study by the same team examined casino atmospheric from a player perspective. The man-made physical surroundings of service settings have been referred to as ‘servicescapes’. Servicescapes comprise three important aspects, (i) ambient conditions (e.g., décor, theme, lighting, colour, noise, temperature, architecture, etc.), (ii) spatial layout and functionality (e.g., the way that seats, entrances, exits, etc. are arranged, i.e., the ‘built’ environment), and (iii) signs, symbols, and artefacts. Satisfaction with servicescape may also influence repeat patronage although satisfaction with servicescape appears to have a stronger effect on players’ desire to stay than on repeat patronage.

Anthony Lucas of the University of Nevada has done a lot of research in this area and has found that certain aspects of casino atmosphere are significantly related to player satisfaction including interior décor, navigation (i.e., floor layout), cleanliness, and seating comfort. Similar results have also been reported by Long Lam and colleagues at the University of Macau. They surveyed over 500 casino players in Macau. Overall, after controlling for betting outcomes, they found that gamblers were more satisfied when they gambled in an attractive environment. Satisfaction with the gambling environment was related to the person’s intention to revisit the casino. The study was also the first to examine both cognitive satisfaction and affective satisfaction. At its simplest, cognitive satisfaction relates to whether the casino met the gambler’s expectations, and affective satisfaction relates to the gambler’s personal feelings of positive emotion. Their research showed that cognitive satisfaction was most predicted by navigation, ambience, and cleanliness. Affective satisfaction was most predicted by navigation, seating comfort, and interior décor.

Another study by Lesley Johnson and colleagues examined ten elements of casino atmosphere (theme, décor, noise level, colour, ceiling height, lighting, temperature, floor layout, employee uniforms, and smell). Using factor analysis, five factors emerged (theme/décor, noise level, ceiling height, floor layout and employee uniform). Only three of these were significantly related to player satisfaction (theme/décor, employee uniform, and noise level in that order, i.e., theme/décor being the most important variable). Overall, in was concluded there was a direct linkage between atmospheric elements of casinos and player satisfaction – at least in slot machine players.

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

Further reading

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.

Johnson, L., Mayer, K. Champaner, E. (2004). A customer-based assessment of casino atmospherics. Gaming Research and Review Journal, 8(2), 1-10.

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.

Lucas, A.F. (2003). The determinants and effects of slot servicescape satisfaction in a Las Vegas hotel casino. Gaming Research and Review Journal, 7(10), 1-19.

Mayer, K. & Johnson, L. (2003). A customer-based assessment of casino atmospherics. Gaming Research and Review Journal, 7(1), 21-31.

Mayer, K. & Johnson, L., Hu, C. & Chen, S. (1998). Gaming customer satisfaction: An exploratory study. Journal of Travel Research, 37, 178-183.

Oakes, S. (2000). The influence of the musicscape within service environments. Journal of Services Marketing, 51, 34-43.