In every casino, there’s much more than meets the eye. Although guests are typically only aware of what’s happening on a surface level, a casino’s ability to create a false sense of reality extends beyond the programming of slot machines and betting against the odds at the tables. It reaches far into every corner of the room and is designed in such a way, that their intentionality behind every flashing light, “cha-ching!” jackpot noise, smokey bar, and endless maze of slot machines all come together to place a bet against human psychology. They say there’s a reason why the house always wins, but what is it about the design of these spaces and the allure of the gambling table that makes visitors always come back for more?
Casino design has a long history of controversy when it comes to creating the most effective spaces to entrap guests and keep them spending. The original school of thought behind casino design was developed by Bill Friedman, a professor of casino management at University of Nevada Las Vegas, and author of Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Friedman claims that the sole factor in casino design comes from understanding what percentage of visitors come to gamble, and how many of those return. The games themselves are the same everywhere, so the architecture of gaming is the differentiating factor of what brings guests back for more. He says that although the flashy exteriors of the Vegas Strip promote hotels in a variety of themes, casinos themselves should follow a set of design rules based on his observations. In his writings, Friedman evaluated successful elements in casinos as ones that enhance the overall experience, help make the most money, and attract gamblers outside of their own resort guests. If you’ve ever been to a casino where there are slot machines right as you’ve entered the hotel, gambling equipment featured as the main decor, winding and often confusing pathways through the space, and low ceilings, then you’ve seen his gaming designs in action.
However, in the last thirty years, casino design has favored Las Vegas-native Roger Thomas’ strategy which almost rebukes Friedman’s theories. For the design of one of Las Vegas’ most well-known casinos, the Bellagio, Thomas partnered with Steve Wynn, took a risk against Friedman’s older ways of thinking, and bet on a more “evoca-tecture” design palette that would stimulate the senses to the extreme. Often referred to as the “Playground Design” style of casinos for their ability to always ensure guests are having fun, these casinos provide ample light, excellent wayfinding, high ceilings, glamorous lobby spaces with sculptures, and maximize comfortability. Instead of entrapping guests in a web of buzzing slot machines, they provide clear sightlines to where gamblers want to head next. The designs also speak to guests who might not typically gamble, as their luxurious decor acts as a type of anesthesia to numb guests of their significant losses.
With his new design theory, Thomas’ gamble paid off, as the Bellagio generated the largest profits for a Las Vegas property in history. Ultimately, what was discovered was that guests were able to enter a greater sense of mental restoration and relaxation in these areas, leading them to place larger and riskier bets. These spaces became refuge, and their overall designs manifested a much stronger desire to gamble.
So the next time you enter a casino, keep in mind that someone has carefully crafted this space to allow you to actually enjoy risky spending, and is encouraging you to bet even more. If you’re having fun, and the casino is making money, then it’s a win-win.