Games of luck… and manipulation

A few years ago, I did some work for casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Yes, just like this one Casinos are interesting businesses. Essentially, they provide a strange value proposition – give them your money and they’ll give you some of it back. Occasionally, they’ll give you more, but usually they’ll hand back a fraction of what you gave them. And that’s it. No other service is provided, no goods change hands. Casinos depend, in many ways, on people making irrational choices. Everyone walks into a casino thinking that they’re going to win money, even though they also know the games have been set up to prevent this from happening. Everyone knows the house has the edge, so the house depends on making everyone forget that for a short time while they gamble their money. What this means, practically, is that casinos have mastered the art of subtle manipulation – of enticing the players to enter, to play a few minutes longer, to gamble a few more dollars. The casino depends on the first law of manipulation – a small shift multiplied by a large number of people translates to a large stake. So how do they do it? Most of the legends told about casinos and how they manipulate patrons are ancient. The old story about there being no clocks in casinos, for example, is true, but...

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