In a recent New Yorker article, Jonah Lehrer profiled Roger Thomas, the head of design for Wynn Resorts. Thomas is largely credited with reinventing the modern casino by breaking all the rules. Wynn and Thomas believed (correctly) that people “would be more likely to place big, risky bets when they felt safe and relaxed.”
“People,” Thomas says, “feel glamourous in a glamorous space and rich in a rich space. And who doesn't want to feel rich.”
And it worked.
As conceived by Wynn and Thomas, the Bellagio’s casino represented a $1.6-billion bet on human psychology. The gamble paid off: the Bellagio generated the largest profits for a single property in Las Vegas history. And this income wasn’t a by-product of scale—the Bellagio was less than half the size of the MGM Grand—but a direct result of the way that Wynn’s guests spent money. Per guest room, the resort generated four times as much revenue as the Las Vegas average.
Research supports the psychological assumptions that went into Thomas' designs.
Karen Finlay is a professor at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, who focusses on the behavior of gamblers. Her latest experiments have immersed subjects in the interiors of various Vegas hotels by means of a Panoscope, which projects three hundred and sixty degrees of high-deﬁnition video footage. There are slot machines and card tables in every direction.
Using the Panoscope method, Finlay compared the mental effects of classic casinos, with low ceilings and a mazelike layout, to those of casinos designed by Thomas. Subjects surrounded by footage of Thomas’s interiors exhibited far higher levels of what Finlay terms mental “restoration”—that is, they were much more likely to say that the space felt like a “refuge” and reduced their stress level. They also manifested a much stronger desire to gamble.
“The data is clear,” Finlay concludes, “gamblers in a playground casino will stay longer, feel better, and bet more. Although they come away with bigger losses, they're more likely to return.”
If you're a subscriber to the New Yorker, you can read the entire article.
Still curious? read some more about the psychological tricks Vegas uses.