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Essay: Casino architecture

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  • Subject area(s): Architecture essays
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  • Casino architecture
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1 Introduction

Casinos and retail spaces differ in the intent and the demographic of people that visit them, however, the design principles which are applied are both trying to achieve similar results.

I will look over every factor in casino and retail design and its influences on the customer. These factors include layout, light, and sound within these environments. Breaking each of these down will allow me to pinpoint why certain design decisions have been made and why they may differ due to location. It will also allow me to reflect on why certain designs create higher spending, although this may not be uniform across all situations.

Casino architecture differs majorly between casinos; this is most apparent in Las Vegas, where there is a never-ending strip of casinos all trying to stand out from the rest, whether that takes the form of a theme resort such as Pirate Island, or the Paris Casino. This being said, the interior of almost every casino seems to be very similar: rows of slot machines, a ring of gaming tables-including blackjack and roulette- then, a separate room for card games such as ‘Texas hold em’. This layout seems to be apparent in most casinos and there could be a few different reasons for this. It could be that this is the easiest layout for managers to watch over the gaming floor with ease, or it could be that this layout is proven to encourage people to spend more time, and therefore money within the establishment.

However, regardless of intention, if you look beneath the surface you notice there are two major design principles at play within casino architecture. These are known as macro design principles: the playground, and the gaming design. Both of these design principles are trying to design a casino which encourages the customer to gamble, yet, they are trying to achieve these in opposing ways. Friedman argues that the gaming design has basic constructs that a casino should follow in order to be successful; these include maze like pathways and low ceilings to disorientate the customer whilst completely immersing them within the gambling environment (Friedman, 2000). Kranes’ design, on the other hand, targets social gamblers, someone who is in a casino on a night out, or on holiday (Kranes, 1995). What sets social gamblers apart is that they normally wouldn’t spend money within a casino, and may even refrain from doing so. As such, by creating an enticing environment which has the potential to engage new customers the casino would not need to rely on repeat patronage and the risks of problem-gambling.

The risk of encouraging problem-gambling is something that all casinos try to avoid. There is strict regulation that casinos must follow to allow them to operate, and a breach of these regulations can result in revocation of their gaming license. To ensure that a casino meets these regulations, they can ban a customer if they feel like they are spending too much time, or money within their establishment, if they feel that the gambling is affecting their home life, or that the money has been made through illegal means (Bracken, 2016).

Yet, whilst they cannot actively encourage gambling, retail spaces do make use of a few design principles to try and encourage a customer to spend more time within the establishment, thus increasing the likelihood of the patron spending money. This falls down to three main layouts, each of which works best in certain kinds of stores. Unlike the macro design principles in casinos, it is crucial that a store owner use the correct layout for their store. Using the wrong one could result in a customer not being engaged in their surroundings, and withholding their custom from the establishment.

The most popularly discussed layout of any retail space is the racetrack layout, most famously used by Swedish furniture giant IKEA. The layout of IKEA is designed in such a way that the customer must walk a certain way around the store, and to exit you have to pass the tills. This is not all that uncommon in Swedish stores, having a set path for the customer to walk through, may be an efficient way to organise products so that the customer can consult a map to find the department of their choosing. However, it could also be that this makes the customer feel trapped within this layout and even lost, therefore encouraging them to make impulse buys, as they will be unsure whether or not they can find the same product again (Penn, 2011).

Lighting within both casinos and retail is very interesting; similar strategies are used in both to influence the customer. However, it is apparent they again apply them in different ways: for example, you don’t find many shops with dark lighting, as this would deter the customer from browsing and wouldn’t draw the eye of the customer towards the merchandise. However, you do find stores with lower level soft light, these stores are often selling to a higher bracket and use low level light to create ambience, and to make the customer feel like they are in a high quality store. As such, could the lower level light be compensated for with more eager floor staff that could help with the needs of every customer?

Lighting within casinos, especially around slot machines is very bright and obnoxious; this could be a way of enticing the customer to gamble by drawing their eye to the gaming machine. It also could have another use in making the customer feel as if they win more than they lose; in doing so, is it encouraging problem-gambling by instilling this false sense that winning is more common than losing? There have been many studies into the use of both red and blue light on the customer and how it affects their mood and arousal, using both of these could influence the customer whilst within the store (Plitnick, et al., 2010).

Music and sounds play a large role in both casinos and retail: it can be used to set a customer’s initial impression of a shop, and how much they would expect to spend in this shop. For more expensive shops, lower volume classical music might be played, this demonstrates the class of the store, and therefore how much you expect to pay whilst in it. For other shops such as HMV, chart music is played as this appeals to their demographic.

Being able to determine what factors affect a customer the most will allow me to find the best design for each. It will also allow me to directly compare both casino and retail design and how these designs encourage the customer to spend more time, and money within these establishments.

2 Influence of Casino Design on an Individual

The more time a customer spends within a casino the more money they are likely to part with, therefore it is in the casino’s best interest to design a gaming floor which entices customers to stay. In one study involving the influence of casino design on problem gambling behaviour, gamblers were shown video clips varying in lighting, colour, sound, and design layout (Finlay-Gough, 2015). In this study it was demonstrated that through changing these parameters it would change the gamblers likelihood to stay. ARGIS and REST were used to allow the study to judge how each environment change would affect the individual by giving them a scale to measure the anticipated impact of such variations. At-Risk Gambling Intentions (ARGIS) is a gauge to estimate how much individuals anticipate they would gamble more, and spend more time within a casino (Finlay, et al., 2006). Restoration (REST) is a mental state in which mental fatigue is offset and there is opportunity to ground yourself using your surroundings (Kaplan, 1987). Through this, it would be possible to find a correlation between certain design aspects and the customer’s likelihood to stay within that environment. Further to that, with this information, it would be easy to develop a design that would be able to entice a customer to spend time within the casino without them developing at-risk gambling intentions.

2.1 Macro Design Principles

Two main casino designs were created, which both attempt to achieve the same principles: attract customers into the venue, encourage gambling, and repeat patronage. These principles are put into practice in two very different ways: the ‘Playground’ design, and the ‘Gaming’ design (Figure 1.) (Kranes, 1995) (Figure 2.) (Friedman, 2000). The ‘Playground’ casino design is designed to create a feeling of restoration, using high ceilings, open areas, easily viewable signage to draw the customers attention away from gambling and allow their mind a reprieve in order to ground themselves. The ‘Playground’ design is particularly useful in areas with slot machines, where there is a need to maintain high levels of concentration referencing which button to press, or how much you have on each spin. Having a feature that could draw the attention of the customer away from the slot machine for a few minutes, would allow them to ground themselves and reconsider how much they are spending.

Figure 1 Casino Floor at New York, New York (WIlkinson, 2012)

By comparison, the ‘Gaming’ design states that the casino should have low ceilings no signage, maze like pathways through the machines, and no features, therefore drawing the customers attention towards the gaming machine. It was found within a study that the ‘Playground’ design created higher level of REST and lower levels of ARGIS, whereas it was the opposite for the ‘Gaming’ design (Finlay, et al., 2006). However, these findings must be treated with caution, as subjects were asked to judge based on one minutes clips they were shown, thus it is difficult to say whether or not the subjects would act in the same way if they were within the same casino environment.

Figure 2 Gaming Floor at Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (Dare, 2018)

2.1.1 Influences on Problem Gambling

Casinos must abide by laws that state they have the customer’s interests at heart, and if they spot problem-gambling they will aid the individual; this cannot always be carried out in practice, as it is difficult to spot a problem gambler or a person who could be at risk of problem gambling. An individual can self-exclude themselves from the premises if they feel like they are spending too much time within an establishment and they must have the manager’s approval before being allowed back on the premises (usually 6 months) (Bracken, 2016). However, with this, it is still within a casino’s interest to keep an individual within their establishment to gamble for a longer period of time. Could these design influences have a negative impact that causes an individual to develop problem-gambling?

Although it would seem that a ‘Gaming’ design would entice a customer to gamble more or spend more time within the casino, research has proven that, if the casino has a ‘Playground’ design, it can cause a more stimulating gambling environment, especially for those who have not gambled before. This could therefore drive in a larger crowd of individuals whilst reducing the risk of problem gambling behaviour. Las Vegas is a great example of this: people get swept up in the ‘Vegas’ environment, enticing non-gamblers to give it a try, especially in resort themed casinos where there are indoor water features and other such gimmicks to draw the customer’s attention (Griffiths, 2009).

2.2 Gaming Floor Design

Las Vegas is the perfect example of gaming floor design, and how it creates a multi-sensory environment to entice customers to gamble and keep returning. In most casinos in Las Vegas, the entrance is designed so that when you enter the check in desk is behind you, this ensures that the gaming tables are in your immediate line of sight, enticing customers to play (Venturi, et al., 1977, p. 49). This already draws the customer’s attention towards the gaming floor before they have even checked into their hotel. This experience of arriving into the hotel has been tested to see if different variations will change their intention to gamble: this ‘experience’ is referred to as the ‘landing strip’ (Finlay-Gough, 2015). It was anticipated that anxiety-inducing landing strips could lead to larger risk-taking, and contribute to a higher risk of problem gambling, whereas pleasure-inducing landing strips would lead to higher restorative experience and would lead to higher level of pleasure.

Gaming floor layout can have a big influence on whether or not a customer is likely to return to the establishment; things such as décor and signage are immediately noticeable to the customer and will affect their decisions when inside the venue. However, using Freidman’s, ‘Gaming’ design, by creating maze-like pathways of slot machines will encourage continuous gambling. Low ceilings and lack of signage also helps to draw the attention of the customer towards the gaming machines. This will also encourage reduced social interaction, which in turn could lead to a greater risk of problem gambling.

2.3 Casino Lighting

Lighting within a casino plays a very important role on the customer: “The gambling room is always very dark; the patio, always very bright.” (Venturi, et al., 1977, p. 49). Keeping the light low within the gambling area helps to disorient the customer from how long they have spent within the area, or how much money they are spending whilst there. This is further aided with no windows to only allow in artificial light, not giving the gaming floor a day and night cycle: “The intricate maze under the low ceiling never connects with outside light or outside space. This disorientates the occupant in space and time” (Venturi, et al., 1977, p. 49). In contrast, the lighting within the slots area uses bright, flashing lights on all machines to allow it to appear as if people are winning more than losing. However, there may be more contributing factors as to why there is no daylight within casino environments: these include but are not limited to laws that state gambling machines must not be seen from outside the casino, as well as manufacturers warning that machines should be kept out of daylight, and to reduce glare on gaming screens (Siddle, 2014).

In a small study conducted at the University of South Wales, participants were placed in a laboratory setting with a laptop hooked up to an online version of roulette. In this study, lighting was altered to see the effects this had on the participants: the two lighting effects were red lighting and natural lighting conditions which were placed close to a window. It was observed that daylight had minimal, if any, effect on a player’s risk- taking (Siddle, 2014), although this could be disputed as it was a small sample size and participants were only gambling with play money inside a laboratory environment.

There is valid proof that there is a direct relationship between colour stimulation and the central nervous system, however there is much uncertainty as to why this happens. Certain colours are commonly linked to different moods e.g. Red = exciting, or aggression, whereas blue has a calming effect. There have been several studies showing that different colours will affect people’s mood and even their arousal (Mehrabian & Russel, 1974). It is apparent that within most casinos and gambling halls that red runs throughout as a backlight or a mood setter, especially around the gaming floor, if this was to effect how a gambler felt whilst playing it could influence them to spend more time gambling. It has been found that reduced light levels lessen eye contact and increase verbal latency in conversations (Carr & Dabbs , 1974). The increased use of this within a gambling setting could lead to reduced social interaction with peers, which could lead to more gambling from these individuals (Griffiths & Parke, 2003).

The evidence of lighting directly affecting someone’s decision within a gambling environment, although not certain, does seem to match the ‘gaming’ design background. Low, red lighting leads to exciting yet reduced, social interaction, especially around slot machines where most light is from the slot machines themselves. This, coupled with certain machine arrangements where perhaps they are more cubicle-based, with low ceilings and lacking in other decorations, could lead to increased intention to gamble.

2.4 Sound Stimulus

“A number of authors have made the point that the sound effects (particularly in slot machines) are gambling inducers” (Griffiths & Parke, 2003). The almost constant loud and obnoxious noises are there to create the illusion that winning is more common than losing. This is not a relatively new technique, in older style slot machines instead of loud noises being made when someone wins, tokens falling into a steel tray created the illusion. This may create a greater urge to gamble as they will feel they will have a higher chance of winning and are more in control of the outcome. Obviously, the end goal of loud sound effects within machines is to encourage customers to stay and return; the sound effects when a machine pays out will allude to ‘good value for money’ for the customer, and a higher chance of winning. This also works well when referenced back to macro design principles: if this is happening within a ‘Gaming’ design setting it is shown to contribute towards at-risk gambling intentions.

It is apparent that music is playing an increasingly large role in casinos, either as background music, or for use in gaming machines. Although, it has been noted that there has been no research on the role of music within gambling environments, it was found that music was varied: these varieties occurred across a day, based on whether or not it was a weekend or a weekday within a gambling venue- with pop music being played throughout the day and more relaxing music in the evening (Griffiths & Parke, 2005). It was also noted that music can heighten psychological arousal, or aid in relaxation; these effects could positively or negatively influence the listener within a gambling setting (Griffiths & Parke, 2003). However, to say that music will directly affect a player’s urge to gamble more, or less, depending on the music would be speculation due to lack of evidence.

3 Retail Design

It makes good sense that retail spaces would be designed to influence the shopper in many ways: first, it needs to entice the customer into the store; second, it needs to entice the customer to spend more time in the store, and third; it needs to influence the customers desire to spend money in that store. Retailers can use many different tactics to get patrons into a store: sale signs in windows, or other extravagant displays is known as retail window design, and the power of it should not be underestimated (as many as 4 sales can be achieved through a good window display) (Anon., 2014). A window display should attract attention and create interest in potential customers, inviting them into the store. There are only eleven seconds to achieve this, as after that time the average customer will no longer pay attention to the display (Mopidevi & Lolla, 2013).

Visual merchandising is the term given to visually enhancing the brand, and making the brand more attractive to potential customers. Stores will even hire people with the job role of making the brand attractive and ensuring a good shopping experience. In one study, all aspects of retail design were considered, to determine if visual merchandising will have a positive impact on customers. It was found that store layout had a negative but significant impact on customer attention, but that window display, colour, lighting and store interior all have positive, significant impacts on customer attention. In the study it concludes that businesses should focus on visual merchandising strategies for attracting customers and thus increasing footfall within the store, this could also potentially give them a lead over similar competitors (Soomro, et al., 2017).

Once inside the store the objective of the retailer is to encourage you to spend your money, and the best way to do this is to try and cause you to spend more time within the store: as written within the Green rooms blog “modern consumers are extremely busy and have a tendency to shop in a hurry” (Anon., 2014). One way of doing this is by creating large, eye-catching features or displays at the entrance to the store which will force the customer to quickly decide if they like what they see.

3.1 Store Layout

Laying out a store correctly is vital to the success of the business, ensuring customers move through the space correctly. Laying out the store in such a way to ease congestion in aisles allows consumers to take time and see items, whereas if they are rushed past a section the likelihood they will actually purchase anything from that department is significantly reduced (Anon., 2014). There are three typical layouts used in most stores: the Grid layout (used by Supermarkets); The Racetrack layout; and the Free Flow layout. All of these layouts are trying to achieve the same thing: to expose shoppers to product and ensure maximum traffic flow (Kizer & Bender, 2007).

In a Grid layout (Figure3) the shelves run parallel to the walls; this is designed so that customers will grab a shopping trolley and make their way around the store. A grid layout also allows clear lines of sight throughout the store, plus it allows for end-feature exposure (Kizer & Bender, 2007). The Grid layout is preferred by supermarkets and the arrangement of the shelves fits well with the shopping behaviours of consumers: it facilitates a fast and efficient shopping experience (Elbers, 2016).

Figure 3 Grid Layout Example (Ghag, 2013)

The ‘Racetrack’ layout (Figure 4) is designed to lead the customer around the whole of the store in a set path. The store is divided into separate sections, each section with its own product range. The main function of the ‘racetrack’ is to guide consumers through as much of the store as possible (Elbers, 2016). The ‘Racetrack’ layout offers maximum product exposure to the consumer, as the perimeter walls are just as prominent as the end features (Kizer & Bender, 2007). This layout is featured in stores such as Ikea where there are arrows on the floor leading you through the store, so you have to walk through other departments before you reach the department you need; this can often lead to consumers buying products they pass on the way to their intended department.

Figure 4 Racetrack layout (, 2018)

Alan Penn, a lecturer at UCL, Bartlett School of Architecture, gives a very informative lecture about IKEA and how it is designed to make you spend money. Penn states “if you shop in IKEA, all you do is follow people around the shop, you very seldom find people going the other direction” (Penn, 2011). The reason for laying the store out in such a manner could cause them to pick up something they are uncertain of buying, as they will be unsure if they will be able to find their way back to the product (Zambasri, 2017). Another tactic used in IKEA store design is the limited view round the next corner, which creates a subconscious sense of mystery, which draws the customer further into the store (Kaplan, 1987).

This layout is common in Sweden not just in IKEA, but in most large department stores, there is a definitive entrance and exit. You will often find that you need to pass the tills to reach the exit, encouraging he customer to make a purchase even if they did not originally intend to do so. This layout forces the customer to move the whole way around the shop to reach the exit therefore exposing them to maximum amount of merchandise (Kizer & Bender, 2007).

The Free Flow layout (Figure 5) contradicts the grid layout, as it is an unstructured layout of aisles, shelves and displays (Elbers, 2016). The Free Flow layout can be observed mostly in clothing stores, this is because the design emphasises the customer being able to easily find the product they are looking for: low aisles and shelves aid in this. Speciality retailers will typically use this layout, as it will allow for the most amount of creativity, thus allowing the customer to move freely throughout the store where they will find new merchandise on every turn (Kizer & Bender, 2007). The Dover Street Market (Figure 6) demonstrates the free flow layout in that the merchandise does not have a set structure it must follow, it has ‘islands’ placed around, with the perimeter walls also showing merchandise, allowing the free flow of movement of the customer throughout the store.

Figure 5 Free Form Layout (Ghag, 2013)

Figure 6 Dover Street Market Ginza, Tokyo, Japan (Cull & Nguyen, n.d.)

It is vital that a store pick the correct layout to ensure maximum traffic and product exposure. There are several other important layout features that a store must consider, and one of these is known as the ‘Butt-Brush’ effect: customers do not like to be touched from behind, and will therefore avoid standing in a place in which this could occur. Thus one can infer, that should a display be shown in a narrow pathway it will sell less merchandise than if it were in a larger pathway, as customers are less likely to spend time browsing this display. It was discovered that sales were lower from a tie rack placed on a main thoroughfare, as customers do not want to be brushed form behind whilst browsing such merchandise: the tie rack was moved and sales increased (Anon., 2006).

It was also found that American consumers will turn right when entering a store, the reasoning behind this is that subconsciously they turn right due to driving on the right hand side of the road, therefore the opposite would be applicable to the UK. This means that the space to the right of the store will inevitably sell better than items on the left. This will also apply to items on display to the right of a big ticket, high selling item (Kizer & Bender, 2007). Yet, studies have shown that items placed within the first 15 feet of the store will typically sell less than other items, this relates to the customers change of state from outside of the store to the inside, this is known as the decompression zone. It is recommended that nothing is placed inside this area, and that even shopping trolleys and signs should be located just past this area, as customers are likely to just go straight past it. (Kizer & Bender, 2007)

3.2 Store Lighting

In a store setting there are several different lighting techniques used throughout the store: accent lighting, task and feature lighting, and ambient lighting, each of these is used to light different parts of the store, and influence the customer. Accent lighting is used to highlight a product; it is by far the brightest element in the store. It is used to catch the eye of the customer from the entrance as they walk past, thereby drawing them in to browse the product selection. Task and Feature lighting is used to light places such as the changing rooms or tills, however, the lighting here is dropped slightly so it does not interfere with the Accent lighting. Ambient lighting is used to light walkways and give general lighting to the store that does not affect Accent or Feature lighting; this is key, as you do not want the customers’ attention drawing away from the product line (Mesher, 2010).

It is documented that different coloured light, specifically red and blue light, will affect an individual’s alertness and mood (Plitnick, et al., 2010). Red light has been shown to increase a customer’s arousal whilst in a store, which will lead to a greater likelihood of spending more time in the store and having a greater engagement with staff (Crowley, 1993). Yellow is generally the first colour humans notice, and therefore can be used in shop displays to draw the eye of a customer. Neon signs are often also used outside a store, this is to draw the eye of a potential customer and get them to cross the threshold into the store: this is more often used in stores with a younger target market, it can be used as a way to stand out from other shops (Jones, 2018). Light blue has been known to lower blood pressure and most shades of blue have a calming influence, however some shades of blue encourage reflection, which can lead to customers spending less (Soars, 2009). It is also documented that high levels of light on products will encourage impulse buys; this could be due to increased levels of arousal, but also through the effect on the customer’s vision (Areni & Kim , 1994).

An American published in the Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society, tried to research the influence of lighting on a company’s profit. In this study filament spotlights at two furniture stores were swapped for energy efficient bulbs, this was to provide ambient lighting by providing indirect light using florescent lamps. Over a five month period, the energy bills and sales figures were compared to the same time the previous year. It was found that energy costs decreased twenty five percent in both stores, however, it was found that sales increased thirty-five percent in only one of the stores. Although this data is promising in demonstrating that lower levels of indirect light can be effective in generating sales, the nature of furniture sales is that they are low-volume, high-price items so it is difficult to determine whether the same result would be seen in other stores which rely on a much higher volume of sales (Cuttle & Brandston, 1995).

Another study, used photographs of products under different lighting to see which one the customer preferred. To do so six different products (apple, lettuce, orange juice, bread, meat and paprika), were photographed under eight different lighting techniques. Before entering the experiment none of the participants knew it was about lighting and were simple asked to choose between two photographs which one they preferred, after leaving the experiment some candidates indicated it took them a while to understand that there were different lighting techniques being used. It was clear that lighting did not just affect everyone in the same way, and that there were preferences depending on gender and age. However, this experiment has limitations to its use in the retail environment, as people react differently to light shown through a camera, as light does not interact with a camera lens the same way in which it interacts with the human eye (Quartier, et al., 2008).

3.3 Music within Retail

Music within retail environments, just like layout and light, can be used to influence a customer’s feelings within the store and their arousal level. Therefore, it could be hypothesised that certain types and levels of music could affect a patron’s desire to spend money with a retailer. For example, a record store playing loud, popular music can encourage a customer to enter the store and browse, therefore creating a positive purchasing environment (Areni & Kim , 1994). However, studies have shown that loud music will create a hectic environment, and may cause the customer to make rash decisions leading to impulse buys. However, the time spent within the store when loud music is playing is significantly reduced, this therefore means that nothing in gained in doing so (Smith & Curnow, 1966).

What was eventually discovered in most research on this topic is that the right music normally depends on the demographic the store is aimed towards. Therefore, a shop like Abercrombie and Fitch could play recent pop hits to excite its core customer base, the under 25’s, however, other stores with a demographic of 25+ should create a calmer soundscape (Soars, 2009). As with other aspects of design within a retail space, trying to find the right balance is key, and most importantly, designing towards your known customer base.

Music in conjunction with lighting, has been shown to affect a customer’s expectations in relation to the store. For example, it was found that classical music in combination with soft lights, signals to the customer that they expect to pay higher prices (Baker, et al., 1992). Whereas, a lack of music, but warmer or harsher colours conveyed a lower-end market, such as a discount store. However, encouraging sales achieved through an ambient environment can also be achieved using a social environment: having more staff to tend to customers can lead to higher customer engagement, thus a higher likelihood of a customer spending money within that store. It was found that if a store had an environment which was high in either one of these factors, it may be just as good at providing a pleasurable experience than a store that is high on both factors (Baker, et al., 1992)

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