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Deal Me In: Hmmm, do I smell an opportunity here?

7 September 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: A 1988 study by Van Toller and Dodd found that "aroma engineering" in Las Vegas casinos could increase players' optimism and gambling zeal by as much as 53%. Do today's casinos use aromas to stimulate gaming? Bud N.

Your question, Bud, delves into the world of "aromatherapy," which is the manipulation of human emotional reactions by fragrances. Supposedly, these same aromatic compounds will alter one’s desire to gamble lots more.

Possibly, Bud, this has some merit. Anytime I walk into any casino, I revisit my decades on the inside by way of the synthesized smells of the electronics of slot machines. My reaction tends to be positive, not to gamble more, but to enjoy fond memories.

My first exposure to being a "mood designer," was when a slick realtor told me, a fledgling realtor, that I should put a drop of vanilla on a light bulb to set the open-house atmosphere. If I actually wanted to sell a "dog" house that weekend, he advised, try baking cookies. Of course, it didn’t work, and along with 18% interest rates and no sales, helped usher me out of real estate and into the gambling business for now over 30 years.

This controversial subject has generated interest, and the casino has its share of tricks to part you from your hard-earned money. Casinos spend tens of thousands of dollars each year studying whether interior design (yes, even that gaudy carpeting), lighting, you name it, makes players stay and play more. If somehow a casino could figure out how to keep every patron playing just a few more minutes each time, it would add millions to a casino's coffers each year.

I believe the Van Toller and Dodd study is linked with the research of Dr. Alan Hirsch. Hirsch, who set up his own Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago, made news in Las Vegas when his aroma engineering study at a Las Vegas casino increased patrons spending by 53 percent.

Hirsch cultivated an interest in the connection between scent and emotion when, as a resident in psychiatry, he noted that when shoppers were exposed to pleasant odor, it induced them to spend more money. The same for gamblers, where the more intense the fragrance, the more it caused gamblers to risk higher stakes.

The rumor of pumping something through the ventilation system in a casino does have an origin. In Mario Puzo’s book, Fools Die, he mentions the practice of pumping oxygen in the mythical Las Vegas casino Xanadu. However, Bud, that’s fictional, and in reality, no casino would ever entertain the thought. Think oxygen canister and note the word flammable on it. One spark, and KABOOM! So, no, they don’t pump oxygen into the casino.

It is easy to imagine gambling “scent stylists” designing subliminal “alpha” fragrances for needy gamblers to disorient the players even more than they already are, and I do not doubt that it has been tried, but its regular use, I question. To the best of my knowledge, no casino that I know of is pumping scents through the air circulation system regularly, yet.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Luck never made a man wise." -- Seneca, Letters to Lucilius
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.