How Casinos Trick Us

It’s happened to all of us: You stride into a twinkly, noisy casino, wallet filled with cash and plans for a little enjoyable, sensible gaming and maybe two rounds of cocktails. Hours later, you have no idea what time it is or how much money you’ve spent. How do casinos trick us — people who work hard for their income and make reasoned financial decisions on a daily basis — into throwing hundreds or even thousands of dollars away based on the literal roll of the dice, spin of the wheel or draw of the cards?

Beneath the varnish of flashing lights and free drinks, casinos stand on a bedrock of mathematics engineered to slowly bleed patrons of their money. For years mathematically inclined people have tried to turn the tables by using their knowledge of probability and game theory to exploit weaknesses in rigged systems. But even the best-intentioned players lose in the end.

In addition to the physical design of a casino — mirrors, lights, colors and sounds all designed to entice people in — casinos have become increasingly reliant on technology. Casinos now use video cameras to monitor gambling activity and have developed special equipment to supervise the games themselves. In one example, betting chips with built-in microcircuitry interact with electronic systems to enable casinos to keep track of the exact amount wagered minute-by-minute and quickly discover any anomalies; roulette wheels are electronically monitored with the help of computers that can detect if the results deviate from expected probabilities.