The Casino Experience

From Signal vs. Noise:

From a design/experience perspective, casinos are fascinating places:

1) There are no windows. Gamblers have no idea whether it’s light or dark or sunny or rainy outside.

2) There are no clocks. Dealers are forbidden from wearing watches. Time becomes meaningless.

3) There’s intentionally poor navigation. They are built like mazes meaning it’s usually tough to find a way out.

4) There’s a constant barrage of noises. Slot machines spin, games ding and dong, coins hit metal, there’s the pitter patter of the people running the games, etc. Many of these sounds, like the ringing of the slots, is there to give you a false sense of hope (“If all of those bells are ringing, somebody must be winning!”).

9 Comments

  1. A related observation, from a book on psychoacoustics by Lynne Burmark (I’d noticed the major-key slot machines on my last trip to a casino and found this excerpt when I googled to see if this was common):

    “Not long ago at a conference in New Orleans, we went into a major casino to have lunch. The first thing we heard was the sound of countless rows of slot machines all chiming in a very specific musical interval – that of an open fifth. This particular interval played with constant repetition, as happens in a casino, easily captures the attention of the ear and can be very hypnotic. Every time someone won at a given machine, that machine added another note – a major third – which combined with the open fifth to create a pleasant-sounding, full chord of music. It seemed like the machine was chiming in to help celebrate the gambler’s good fortune!

    But the truly astonishing part of this experience occurred when we went into the casino dining room, just beyond the main slot machine area. We could still hear the machines hypnotically chiming away, but now there were also pop songs being played over the dining room sound system. Lou thought, “Well, this is going to be interesting. Surely some of these songs are going to conflict sonically with the sound of the slot machines.” But none of them did. Why? Because every song played was either in the same (or closely related) key as the slot machines. (Each was either in the same major key or in its relative minor.) The entire time we were there, not one song was played that didn’t musically match the slot machines.

    The tempo of the songs in the casino dining room also changed in interesting ways. The most relaxing tempo is considered by many to be 60 beats per minute – roughly the pulse of the adult human heart at rest. Most of the casino music was between 54 and 70 beats per minute, but only for a certain length of time; the casino wanted people to feel relaxed, but not for long enough to quit gambling. So after about 35 minutes, the tempo increased to between 80 and 124 beats per minute – still a very pleasing range, but obviously more upbeat. Musically we were being gently prodded to leave the all-you-can-eat buffet and get back to the slot machines.”

  2. I used to be a regular at the Hardrock Casino here in Manchester a few years ago when I was free and single and had disposable cash. I noticed all the the things mentioned in that article.

    One point that interested me though was the apparent myth that Casinos are pumped full of pure oxygen. Me and my friends used to ponder this, there was a definate feel of wakefulness in the air, and the next day we all used to report unusual headaches. It might not be oxygen but I’m convinced there was something in the air that made people feel awake and aware until th earky hours of the morning.

  3. Paul – I was just about to post this anyway when I read the front page, but it’s nice to see someone’s already pointed it out. I worked in one for 6 months and grilled the management about pretty much everything I could think of.

    It’s not oxygen, it’s just very cold air from the air conditioning. The high humidity stops it feeling too cold. It’s for the same reason there are no clocks in there, the reason there is bright light everywhere except the around exit, and partly the reason for no natural light* – as you suggest, to stop people thinking “it’s getting late, I’d better go home.”

    I’d never noticed about the music though, and I’m a muso. I’ll go and stand in the corner :/

    *the other being to stop accomplices being able to see in from outside… but frosted glass would do that effectively enough.

  4. I can’t think of any casinos left in Las Vegas that still spit out money into metal trays any more. It’s all now print tickets for your winnings.

  5. First of all I’d like to say that the “C” blog is the best place on the tubes of the internet.

    I live in glorious Las Vegas (extreme sarcasm) and I’d like to say that many of these myths are changing as we speak:

    There are some slot machines that still spit out coins but for the most part almost all of them put the winnings on a ticket or card. It’s not quiet in a casino but it’s not as “noisy” as it once was.

    Watches are not forbidden on dealers nor bartenders, in fact most of them wear nice watch pieces and freely will tell you what the local time is if you ask. Most people just don’t care what time it is when they are on vacation.

    There are no windows because there are no walls to speak of. Most casinos are in the lobbies of the hotels so the space is large and expansive. But they do have large doors which are normally open for people to come and go. At a glance any gambler can see if it is dark or light outside. Again, no one seems to care.

    The air conditioners run constantly because it is freaking hot outside but casinos swear that they have never pumped oxygen into the atmosphere. Free alcohol usually does the trick.

    There are some older casinos that arrange the tables in a confusing way but I think they are just trying to get as many games as possible in a cramped space and to try and keep from being boring.

    One major change lately is the lack of craps tables here in Vegas. Casinos are trying to phase them out because they are the most favorable gambling tools to the tourists.

    And finally, long entrances for cars from The Strip leading to the front of the hotel/casino are going away fast. Casinos have found that if they park their facades right on the sidewalk people will gladly take a detour to walk through the air conditioning than walk on the sidewalk. In a few short years you will be able to walk from casino to casino with only a few short minutes in the 115 degree heat.

  6. “Schmoo what was your job in the casino?”

    Just a croupier, nothing special 🙂

    Roulette mainly, some blackjack and three-card poker.

  7. If casinos phase out craps then they won’t see my sorry numerate ass again as that’s my game. Line bets give the house a paltry 1.4% advantage and taking/laying the free odds reduces that to below 1% (compared to 5.5% on almost all roulette bets.)

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