Casino technologists and designers have become experts in the art of manipulation (something we also see in grocery store layouts). By now, most of us know the tricks casinos use to compel people to wager more. No windows, no clocks, a labyrinthine floor layout that keeps people stuck inside, sitting and playing. Slot machines have irresistible sounds and colors, and some give payouts that aren’t even as big as the bet but still activate the “I won” portion of the brain.
Wagering apps, whether for sports or casino bets, use all those tricks and add a whole new set developed to keep people engaged with social media on their phones by engaging our desires for instant gratification. There is “a race to the bottom of the brain stem,” Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, said in a 2017 TED Talk. Liraz Margalit, a digital psychologist in Tel Aviv, told me that mobile app makers tone down the colors and sounds for first-time gamblers so as not to scare them off. App designers have taken research done to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and applied it to gamblers, she says.
A 2018 article in Gaming Law Review explains that casinos, both physical and virtual, try to induce a state of “attenuated thought,” or “dissociation,” by eliminating transactional frictions. The “bet again” function saves a player’s previous bet size and payline choices, while electronic funds transfer allows them to keep playing when their original stake runs out. Anything that can be done to break people out of their trance, then, is for the better. “One of the most effective policy changes in terms of reducing gambling expenditure was the introduction of smoking bans that caused gamblers to take a break and leave the gambling venue to smoke,” the authors wrote.
I read transcripts of recent conference calls in which gambling executives described their strategies to Wall Street analysts. As you can imagine, finding ways to limit wagering was not high on their list of priorities. Instead most of the talk was about the costly inducements that the companies are offering to attract new players, hoping to get them to stay. The terms of art are TOD and LTV: time on device and lifetime value.
Here are two remarks:
Jason K. Park, chief financial officer of DraftKings: “This is a product that lends itself to a little bit of egging and elbowing and ribbing and talking trash with your friends or people that are in your network. And to have all of that embedded within your favorite app I think will drive retention for sure but also increase levels of play in monetization, new sport introduction, all of that. ”
Richard Schwartz, chief executive officer of Rush Street Interactive: “When you’re betting on things like sports and casino, you want to be able to enter the app and do a very quick face ID. Get in there, play, have it available on your phone very easily and accessible. ” He added that there are “limited markets where we have some friction that we’re very eager to get rid of.”
There’s nothing illegal about any of this, of course, but gambling executives’ understandable desire to add customers and get them to spend more takes on a different complexion when you consider that some customers have a hard time saying no and may be gambling with money they cannot afford to lose.