The Casino Zone
The Casino Zone

How to usher in the next generation of gamblers.

Swipe…catch. Swipe…catch.

As muscle memory takes over, the rest of the world begins to blur around you. Your thumb has just reached the perfect degree of angle placing each new Instagram photo at the exact center of the screen. You are in the zone.

Shoes. Switzerland. Sunset. Pampers ad. More sunsets. More shoes. Kylie Jenner’s baby – jackpot!

Welcome to the ludic loop, “the circle of doing the same thing again and again, because you get just enough reward to keep you trying for it.” What could the next image be? What great reward lies beyond?

This trance-like state is the territory of modern technology – social media, video games and all of the Internet’s treasures untold. But the industry that pioneered this behavior has got every mind in Silicon Valley clamoring for its secrets.

As seen through the Jedi ways of the slot machine, the casino industry thrives today because of its keen understanding – and ability to influence – the ludic loop. Through immersive game design and detailed personal data (obtained in part by players’ rewards cards), the machine delivers an experience that promotes longer engaged play. Says Natasha Schüll, an associate professor at MIT who has researched slots for 15 years:

"Too-big wins have been shown to stop play because it’s such an intense shift in the situation that you’ll kind of pause, you’ll stop, you’ll take your money and leave.” Stretching out gameplay with minor rewards "allows you to get in the flow of, another little win, another little win."

Now, apply that type of “flow" to social media:

“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.

This simple connection may be the casino industry’s answer to the problem plaguing nearly every brand: How will we engage, market to, or even exist in favor of a new Millennial generation?

As far as product offering, the casino industry continues to diversify and adapt to disruption. Online gaming, eSports, VR/AR, skill-based games and sports betting are all fighting for their place in the “Casino of the Future.” Yet it is unlikely that the future of gaming will be ushered in with a single silver bullet.

In large part, however, nearly every physical casino offers this: an experience that, certainly on paper, argues for a very good alignment with Millennials’ desire to be in the zone. Social vs. individual games, risk vs. thrill, seamless hospitality and entertainment. Ingredients that are all carefully designed to make a place-bound experience competitive with that of a smartphone.

The question to ask may be this: which casino brands will aggressively promote the psychology of experience over product? Many have begun to follow this trend by including words such as “experience” or “resort” in their branding efforts.

Gaming’s Mecca has responded to (or arguably, led) the rise in experiential marketing. Las Vegas gives almost as much air to shows, sports, events, hotels, and food as it does gaming itself, and even the game floors are constructed to make customers feel like they are reenacting a high stakes scene from James Bond. MGM Grand’s “Welcome to the Show” campaign is an excellent example of this.

Similarly, regional casinos understand the need to offer a larger experience: WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma rebranded to include “& Resort” to communicate its larger commitment to entertainment and hospitality. In addition to being the biggest casino in the world (measured by quantity of games), WinStar attracts celebrity entertainers, is home to an award-winning golf course, hotel, spa, and restaurants. This all-encompassing gaming experience is organized, according to its name, by themed global attractions: Paris, Beijing, Rome, Madrid, London, Vienna, Cairo, New York City, and Rio, the new non-smoking gaming plaza.

One could expect these strategies will connect well with a younger demographic, as 72% of Millennials seek to spend money on experiences over physical things.

But beyond a unique experience, could casinos even go one further?

Let’s revisit the concept of the ludic loop. Once one enters this state of “flow,” it becomes a complete escape of the mind. Time is perceived to move more quickly. Decisions are made at a fraction of the speed.

Perhaps as every brand struggles to find their own experience, casinos are positioned better than any to double down on the escape. And thus in prime standing to appeal to a generation that desires to escape – not only via smartphone, but increasingly in physical form.

Take a look at the newest boundary pushing experience: Escape Rooms. Introduced in Asia and adopted in the U.S. over the past decade, escape rooms are themed, physical puzzles or riddles to be solved in a group setting.

As found in Newsweek’s article “The Art of the Escape Room,” the Exit Game in Los Angeles clearly connects the dots. The game features components like a laser wall which trips an alarm on pursuit of a high-stakes mission. Said Jeff Hsin, one of the game’s creators:

“We wanted to design one a little more high-tech,” he says. “Our strength is our Hollywood magic. You should feel like you’re in Ocean’s Eleven.”

Let not the casino industry forget that they are Ocean’s Eleven. The what-happens-here-stays-here nature of these unique physical experiences are the lynchpin in their future success.

Those that understand this advantage will continue to market accordingly. Perhaps a few will even pivot more drastically to redesign themselves to cater to these Westworld-craving escape evangelists. As Millennials become even more entranced by the virtual world offered to them via smartphone, the ability to game, socialize and strategize in a physical setting will become even more extraordinary, and casinos are in a prime position to create these experiences.

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