How Casinos Use Reinforcers to Get You to Spend More Than You Can Afford to Lose


Casino is a world of flashing lights, upbeat music and glitzy gambling tables where people put down chips in hopes that their luck will change. Often it does, but the chances of winning are still slim for most people who play.

In fact, most casinos lose money for their customers. So how do they entice otherwise rational people — who work hard for their income and make reasoned financial decisions on a daily basis — to throw hundreds or even thousands of dollars away on the literal roll of the dice, spin of the wheel or draw of the cards?

The answer is a complex mixture of psychological methods known as reinforcers. The managers of a casino control everything from the physical layout to the color scheme and music, as well as the temperature, air quality and even the scents in the building. They want you to lose track of time (they don’t display clocks and there are few windows) so that you will keep coming back to try your luck. They also offer free drinks because they know that alcohol decreases inhibitions and leads to riskier decisions.

Some people gamble at casinos to get recognition for their skills and expertise, while others play there as a form of entertainment or escapism from their daily lives. But the vast majority of people who visit casinos are not aware that they’re being targeted by marketers with messages designed to trick them into spending more than they can afford to lose. In legal terms, this practice is called puffery.